EPA Proposes New Rules for Getting Lead Out of Drinking Water – More Slowly

The Trump administration — after years of promising and more than 9 years of work by EPA — finally issued a proposed rule on lead in drinking water that takes a “proactive and holistic approach to improving the current rule—from testing to treatment to telling the public about the levels and risks of lead in drinking water.”  HUH?  Some testing and notice would be now mandated.  But it does not require the removal of the estimated 6 million or more lead service lines that remain underground throughout the nation, and in fact, it doubles the amount of time allotted to replace lead pipes in water systems that contain high levels of lead.

Why This Matters:  They may try to put lipstick on this pig (sorry for the old pun), and it could have been worse, but when the Trump Administration brags that they put this rule in place, the question should be why did they not do more? This proposed rule is hardly sufficient to deal with the scope and the harm caused by lead in drinking water in this nation.  NBC News reported recently that “nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population still drinks water from unsafe systems, and communities of color face an increased risk of exposure to unsafe water, according to a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.”  We can and should do better. 

The Rule’s Requirements

The new rule requires:

  • Testing of water in schools and daycare centers for lead.
  • If elevated lead levels are found, customers would have to be told within 24 hours, not the current standard of 30 days.
  • It would also require water utilities to conduct inventories of their lead service pipes and publicly report their locations.

How Is It Weaker?

According to The New York Times, “the new rule proposes changing a key element of the current rules, which requires that a water system that is found to contain lead levels higher than 15 parts per billion must replace 7 percent of its lead service lines each year for as long as the lead levels exceed that measurement. The new proposal would instead require water systems with those lead levels to replace 3 percent of lead service lines each year.”  That means it will take twice as long to replace the pipes that are contaminating water.  

What is the Impact of Drinking Contaminated Water?

The publication Education Week recently reported that in Flint, “the toll of the crisis is becoming clear: At least 1 in 5 students in Flint’s public schools are eligible for special education—and the school system is buckling under the weight of federal requirements and costs for providing programs and services.”

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