EPA to Strengthen Lead and Copper Regulations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it has begun developing new guidance and rules to regulatory framework on lead in drinking water. The agency plans 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.
“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.
"The science on lead is settled—there is no safe level of exposure and it is time to remove this risk to support thriving people and vibrant communities.”
Following the agency’s review of the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) under Executive Order 13990 and effective as of Dec. 16, the EPA will include a two-prong approach to improve the framework, including the immediate revisions and proposed new rule.
The new guidance for the LCRR includes support for developing lead service line inventories. The Safe Drinking Water Information System will be updated to support state and Tribal data management needs for these inventories, including best practices, case studies and templates.
The new proposed rule, the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI), is being developed with the goal to fully replace all lead service lines as quickly as possible. According to the LCRR Review Fact Sheet, focus areas in the proposed rule include:
The EPA has allocated $2.9 billion of funding from the bipartisan infrastructure laws to states, Tribes and territories to remove lead service lines in 2022. This funding is the first installment of five that will total $15 billion to replace lead service lines. An additional $11.7 billion in general funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund will also reportedly be utilized for lead removal projects.
The agency expects to finalize the LCRI prior to Oct. 16, 2024, the initial compliance date for the LCRR.
Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan
Last month, the White House released its Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, to deliver clean drinking water, replace lead pipes and remediate lead paint. The goal of the plan is to replace all lead pipes in the next decade.
"There is no reason in the 21st century for why people are still exposed to this substance that was poisoning people back in the 18th century. There is no good reason," Vice President Kamala Harris said during a speech at the AFL-CIO in Washington.
According to the White House, approximately 10 million American households and 400,000 schools land childcare centers are served by a lead service line or pipe. About 24 million housing units have lead-based paint hazards, which reportedly 4 million of house young children.
The plan, according to the White House Fact Sheet, features 15 new actions with more than 10 federal agencies. These actions are divided into three categories, including getting resources to communities, updating rules and strengthen enforcement and reducing exposure in disadvantaged communities, schools, daycare centers and public housing, including:
The Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Childcare Centers will include partnerships between the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA.
“The Biden-Harris Administration will correct these wrongs and use every tool at its disposal to eliminate all lead service lines and remediate lead paint,” stated the press release.
In terms of funding, in additional to the $350 billion provided in the American Rescue Plan, the White House is investing:
The White House states that low-income people and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to the risks of lead-contaminated drinking water, including Non-Hispanic Black people being more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic white people to live in moderately or severely substandard housing.
The EPA’s 2021 Economic Analysis on the benefits of lead service line replacement showed significant increases in lifetime earnings, associated with avoided intelligence quotient (IQ) loss in children, as well as reduced risks of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and other adverse health effects.
Previous LCR Revision
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.
The proposal would require community systems take action by:
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 last year, 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.
“Lower-income communities and communities of color are often disproportionately exposed to lead, which can cause life-long negative effects,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan at the time. “Today, we are inviting these communities and other stakeholders to share their perspectives so that EPA can ensure that its review of the revised Lead and Copper Rule is grounded in their lived experience.”