Washington, DC, Feb. 12, 2020 — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s long-awaited plan to reduce lead exposure in drinking water leaves a lot to be desired, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In some respects, EPA’s proposed Lead and Copper Rule increases public health risks due to loopholes and rollbacks.
In 1991, EPA adopted the Lead and Copper Rule requiring drinking water systems to utilize corrosion control measures when the lead level in the water is above 15 parts per billion (ppb). Now, nearly 30 years later, after public health crises in cities such as Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey, EPA has belatedly proposed some modest revisions containing some problematic elements that PEER’s comments highlight, including that EPA’s proposal –
- Leaves a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for lead that is too high. The proposed rule did not lower the MCL for lead and the agency admits that this standard is not science-based but is “based on feasibility and not based on impact on public health”;
- Slows the rate of replacing Lead Service Lines. The current rule requires that systems exceeding the lead action level replace 7% of these lines per year, a rate EPA would lower to 3% annually; and
- Opens loopholes by exempting “goosenecks, pigtails, or other connectors” made of lead from replacement requirements.
“After decades of kicking the lead and copper can down the road, EPA has taken one timid step forward and two backward,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “There is nothing in this plan to prevent a repeat of horrific conditions in American cities such as Flint–but that was supposed to be the point of this action.”
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EPA’s limited plan also eschews preventive steps to address aging water delivery systems, an approach recommended by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and encapsulated in a rule-making petition that PEER filed with EPA more than a year ago.
As many as 22 million Americans today 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.
“EPA admits that there is no safe level of lead, especially for children, yet its plan continues to allow significant lead exposure,” added Bennett. “Unfortunately, EPA’s current regulatory public health posture is to do as little as inhumanely possible.”