Last month, the EPA released its long-awaited draft to update federal rules for lead in the nation’s drinking water.
The EPA’s proposal, which has been in the works since 2010, is meant to provide what the agency calls a “proactive and holistic approach” to more reliably identify elevated lead levels across 68,000 public water systems and to force utilities to tackle problems faster.
It’s the first time the agency has proposed revising its Lead and Copper Rule since the regulations were enacted almost 30 years ago.
You can read more details here, but to recap, the original rule established an “action level” of 15 parts per billion for lead. The proposed revision keeps that level the same, however, introduces a new “trigger level” of 10 ppb.
If a utility detects lead exceeding 10 ppb in enough taps, it could be forced to reevaluate the chemicals it uses to treat the water for corrosion and must work with state officials on a plan to replace outdated pipes.
In general, the EPA also proposes the following:
Those first two changes are worth noting further. For example, the proposal calls for annual lead testing in at least 20 percent of primary/secondary schools and licensed child daycare per year located within a utility’s service area. This marks the first time the EPA has required testing at these facilities.
For children, even low lead blood levels can damage the brain and nervous system, slow growth and development and lead to learning and behavior problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “no safe blood level in children has been identified.”
And in an effort to curtail practices that critics say allow water systems to avoid reporting problematic test results, the EPA will no longer allow practices such as removing aerators from faucets before testing, giving residents small-necked bottles and instructions to fill them slowly or “pre-flushing” water from lines before taking samples.
Meanwhile, most critics of the EPA’s plan say that they would have preferred a reduction in the action level of 15 ppb rather than the status quo. Spurred on by the Flint Water Crisis, for example, Michigan enacted a new standard of 12 ppb by 2025, the nation’s strictest standard.
And there’s one other change that critics say give water utilities more time not less to replace lead service lines.
Currently, utilities testing above the action level must replace around 7 percent of lead service lines per year. However, the EPA’s draft proposal cuts that replacement down to 3 percent per year.
Most consider the steady removal of the estimated 6 million or more lead service lines that remain buried throughout the nation one of the best ways to eradicate lead from drinking water.
Despite this reduction, however, other water quality pundits believe that new changes, in particular tighter testing parameters, will remove many of the excuses water systems can make to get out of the requirements for replacing the pipe.
A summary of the changes can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2P2AHPd