Washington, DC, Oct. 24, 2018 — Despite numerous admonitions over more than a dozen years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still lacks the basic data it needs to prevent future Flint-like drinking water crises, according to a rulemaking petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Much of the needed data is already collected but has yet to be relayed to EPA.
Current rules only require states to submit drinking water results that exceed the lead action level. EPA lacks data on systems that are approaching danger levels. This means that EPA lacks the ability to step in before lead contamination reaches toxic levels. Some needed data is already collected at the state and local level. PEER’s petition seeks a rule that all this information be submitted to EPA.
“As Flint demonstrated, when it comes to protecting communities from lead contamination in drinking water, EPA is flying blind,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and scientist formerly with EPA. “EPA has known about this problem for years but has yet to lift a regulatory finger.”
The Government Accountability Office issued a report one year ago urging EPA to close this data gap, reprising a 2006 report that flagged the same failing. EPA concurred with both GAO reports but did nothing to implement the recommendations.
EPA admits that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. The adverse effects are particularly damaging for children, lasting their entire lifetimes.
GAO found 5 million to 22 million people receive their drinking water through pipes containing lead. Approximately 8,000 of the 68,000 water systems covered by EPA lead rules are schools and daycare facilities. Last year, PEER filed a separate petition to make sure parents and guardians in these facilities are notified when exceedances occur.
Besides failing to close this data gap, EPA is stalling on its pledge to strengthen its 1991 Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) that requires water systems to minimize lead in drinking water by controlling the corrosion of metals in the water delivery infrastructure and in household plumbing. EPA first promised to update and strengthen the LCR back in 2010 but kept delaying the target dates. The 2014 Flint debacle further underlined the need to strengthen the LCR; instead EPA kept slowing the schedule. Under Trump, EPA has deferred the LCR revisions three times, stalling its proposed completion date until sometime in 2020.
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“EPA needs to stop kicking this public health can down the road,” added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, arguing that lead contamination events keep occurring in communities and schools across the country. “Forewarned is forearmed should be EPA’s approach to preventing toxic exposure to lead in drinking water. EPA needs data now both to enforce the LCR and to understand how well it is being implemented.”
This week EPA is celebrating what it calls “National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.”