Study: Lead Rule Generates $9B in Health Benefits
A new study from researchers at Harvard T.H. School of Public Health has found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule Revision (LCRR) annually generates $9 billion in health benefits.
According to the release, the cost-benefit analysis exceeds public estimates of $645 million in benefits and could help inform improvements to current regulations. In comparison, the LCRR reportedly costs $335 million to implement yearly.
Researchers also stated that they have estimated the infrastructure benefits of the LCRR, which have never previously been calculated, generate at least $2 billion annually.
“We thought the benefits of the LCRR might exceed costs by an order of magnitude—but they were many times that,” said co-lead author Ronnie Levin, instructor in the Department of Environmental Health.
“The benefits include better health for children and adults; non-health benefits in the form of reduced corrosion damage to water infrastructure and appliances; and improved equity in the U.S., as lead-contaminated drinking water disproportionately impacts low-income and minority populations on whom health damages have more severe effects.”
To assess these benefits, researchers reportedly performed a cost-benefit analysis by monetizing 17 of the health endpoints such as preterm birth, declining cognitive function in children and hypertension and coronary heart disease in adults. According to Harvard, the EPA had only accounted for one of the health endpoints, resulting in a much lower annual projection.
“Our study found that stronger rules to reduce lead in drinking water come with enormous benefits for individuals and the United States as a whole. Therefore, we believe the LCRR should be made as rigorous as possible,” said co-lead author Joel Schwartz, professor in the Department of Environmental Health.
Partial funding for the study came from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The university adds that the EPA is currently developing the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI), a set of new regulations intended to improve upon the impacts of the LCRR. This is anticipated to be published by the end of 2024.
These updated rules would reportedly strengthen tap sampling requirements and improve compliance to identify locations with elevated water lead levels, as well as replace lead service lines with a focus in historically marginalized communities.
Lead, Copper Rule Updates
In January last year, the EPA 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 of removing 100% of lead service lines as part of the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan.
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.
At beginning of this year, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions and progress to deliver clean drinking water, replace lead pipes and remediate lead paint based on the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan.
According to the White House’s fact sheet, the two new major actions include the Biden-Harris Get the Lead Out Partnership in collaboration with more than 100 state and local leaders, nongovernmental organizations, water utilities, labor unions and others; and the creation of Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR) Accelerators through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Get the Lead Out Partnership leverages existing efforts and funding to accelerate the replacement of lead service lines and pipes by the end of the decade, as well as creating good paying jobs and prioritizing lead remediation efforts in underserved communities.
The LSLR Accelerators program will provide start to finish, hands-on support to guide communities through the process of lead service line removals. This will reportedly include support in developing lead service line replacement plans, conducting inventories to identify lead pipes, increasing community outreach and education efforts, and supporting applications for bipartisan infrastructure law funding.