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Proposal Would Replace Lead Pipes in Decade

MONDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2023


The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced a new proposal to its Lead and Copper Rule, with the goal of replacing all lead service lines within the next 10 years.

According to a release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the administration is also proposing other improvements to protect public health, like lowering the lead action level and upgrading sampling protocols used by water systems.

Proposal Details

The release adds that the new proposals are meant to help advance President Joe Biden’s plan to remove every lead service line in the country and help mitigate the negative impacts of lead in drinking water.

The proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements act as an advancement in protecting people from the health effects from lead in drinking water. In addition to fully removing lead service lines, major provisions in the proposal include:

  • Locating legacy lead pipes;
  • Improving tap sampling;
  • Lowering the Lead Action Level; and
  • Strengthening protections to reduce exposure.

The release states that the proposals would also require water systems to actively communicate more often with consumers about lead service lines and future plans for replacing them.

“EPA’s proposed Lead and Copper rule is grounded in the best available science and successful practices utilized by drinking water systems to protect children and adults from lead in drinking water,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox.

“Cities like Newark, New Jersey; Benton Harbor, Michigan; and Green Bay, Wisconsin have all successfully gotten the lead out of their water systems. Our proposed rule applies the lessons learned to scale these successes to every corner of the country.”

According to a White House Fact Sheet, lead can contaminate drinking water when plumbing materials containing lead corrode, specifically where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures.

The most common sources of lead in drinking water are lead pipes, faucets and fixtures. The Administration stated that it is taking several actions to reduce this exposure.

The Fact Sheet included that over 9.2 million American households are connected to water through lead pipes and lead service lines. Because of decades of unjust infrastructure development and underinvestment, lead exposure has reportedly impacted low-income communities and communities of color.

Through the bipartisan infrastructure law, $15 billion has been given in funding for the replacement of lead service lines, along with $11.7 billion in general-purpose funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, to be used for lead pipe replacement.

According to the Fact Sheet, the EPA has awarded over $3.5 billion of this lead service line funding to replace hundreds of thousands of lead service lines in homes, buildings and schools.

To work with President Biden’s Justice 40 Initiative, the EPA also plans to deploy at least 49% of its State Revolving Funds to disadvantaged communities.

Additionally, the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs have reportedly granted over $796 million to aid systems that service disadvantaged communities and begin the removal of lead service lines across the country.

Also, this month, the EPA began the Get the Lead Out (GLO) Initiative, a partnership with 200 underserved communities nationwide to provide the technical assistance that is necessary to gain funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law and remove lead service lines from their communities.

“Lead in drinking water is a generational public health issue, and EPA’s proposal will accelerate progress towards President Biden’s goal of replacing every lead pipe across America once and for all,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.

“With collaboration and the focused actions proposed today, EPA is delivering on our charge to protect all Americans, especially communities of color, that are disproportionately harmed by lead in drinking water systems.”

According to the release, when the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the EPA plans to accept comments for 60 days. The agency will also hold a virtual public hearing on Jan. 16, 2024, where the public will also be invited to provide EPA with verbal comments.

 The EPA stated that it is taking a full and detailed approach to getting the lead out, including:

  • Regulatory Framework – the EPA’s proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements follow the science and EPA’s authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to strengthen regulatory requirements and address lead in drinking water;
  • Funding – the bipartisan infrastructure law gives $50 billion to support upgrades to the nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, including $15 billion to lead service line replacement and $11.7 billion of general Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, also for lead service line replacement. To date, the EPA has awarded over $3.5 billion in funding for lead service line replacement across the country;
  • Technical Assistance – the EPA’s water technical assistance (WaterTA), including the recently launched Get the Lead Out Initiative; and
  • Practical Implementation Tools – through training, tools, webinars and case studies, EPA provides support to drinking water systems to reduce lead exposure.

“A game changer for kids and communities, EPA's proposed new lead and copper rule would help ensure that we will never again see the preventable tragedy of a city, or a child, poisoned by their pipes,” said Mona Hanna-Attisha, Flint, Michigan pediatrician and Associate Dean for Public Health at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

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“I am thrilled that this rule centers our children and their potential—and listens to parents and pediatricians who have been advocating for this for decades.”

Lead and Copper Rule Revisions.

In 2019, the EPA proposed a rule amendment that would be the first significant overhaul of the Lead and Copper Rule since 1991. According to The Washington Post, the EPA’s proposal aimed at improving how communities test for lead in drinking water, as well as spurring quicker response times if problems become evident.

According to the EPA, the proposal was a holistic rule amendment, with planned results to include requiring water systems to act sooner in order to better public health and reduce lead levels, facilitate transparency and communications, and improve the protection of both children and the most at-risk communities.

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The proposal would require community systems take action by:

  • Identifying the most impacted areas via an inventory of lead service lines, which also includes water services finding and fixing sources of lead when a sample from a home exceeds 15 parts per billion;
  • Strengthening drinking water treatment via corrosion control treatment, as well as the establishment of a new trigger level of 10 ppb;
  • Replacing lead service lines, both when requested by a customer as well as the service replacing line when needed;
  • Improving drinking water reliability by adjusting sampling sites to areas with higher levels of lead;
  • Facilitating communication with costumers by requiring that systems notify customers within 24 hours if a sample from their home is over 15 ppb; and
  • Improving the protection of children in schools and child care by having services take samples that use their system.

According to the Post, the amended rule has been under development since 2010, and is meant to tackle lead levels across 68,000 public water systems.

In April 2021, the EPA released a schedule of public listening sessions and roundtables regarding its LCRR. The meetings were created to ensure that communities and stakeholders would have the opportunity to provide their perspectives to the agency on protections from lead in drinking water.

Last year, the EPA announced that it had begun developing new guidance and rules to regulatory framework on lead in drinking water. The agency planned to work with local, state and federal partners to achieve President Joe Biden’s goal to remove 100% of lead service lines as part of the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan.

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“Over the past year, I have visited with and heard from communities in Chicago, Flint, Jackson, and many other areas that are impacted by lead in drinking water,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a release. “These conversations have underscored the need to proactively remove lead service lines, especially in low-income communities.

Following the agency’s review of the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) under Executive Order 13990 and effective as of Dec. 16, 2022, the EPA included a two-prong approach to improve the framework, including the immediate revisions and proposed new rule.

The guidance for the LCRR included support for developing lead service line inventories. The Safe Drinking Water Information System was to be updated to support state and Tribal data management needs for these inventories, including best practices, case studies and templates.

The EPA had allocated $2.9 billion of funding from the bipartisan infrastructure laws to states, Tribes and territories to remove lead service lines in 2022. The funding was the first installment of five that would total $15 billion to replace lead service lines. An additional $11.7 billion in general funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund was also reportedly utilized for lead removal projects.

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The agency expected to finalize the LCRI prior to Oct. 16, 2024, the initial compliance date for the LCRR.

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Tagged categories: Copper; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lead; Lead; Lead rule; non-potable water; Pipeline; Pipes; potable water; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Safety; Water/Wastewater


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