With degrading water supply lines in cities throughout the U.S. posing a potential risk of lead poisoning, federal health officials have proposed new changes to detect water supplies that may contain levels of lead exceeding regulatory standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued proposed rules this month, listing several new initiatives that are intended to reduce the risks of lead in drinking water of schools, child care facilities, and the most at-risk communities.
As part of the Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures, several protocols are being proposed for identifying lead, expanding sampling, and strengthening public water treatments to ensure that public water is proactively treated to prevent elevated and harmful lead levels.
The proposal focuses on six key areas, including identifying the most impacted areas, strengthening drinking water treatment, replacing lead service lines, increasing drinking water sampling reliability, improving risk communications to customers and better protecting children in school and child care facilities.
Currently, the existing action level set by the EPA for lead levels in drinking water is 15 parts per billion (ppb). However, the new proposal would introduce a lead trigger level of 10 ppb, which would assist in early recognition.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated in the release that by putting protocols in place to recognize water supply systems that are reaching 10 ppb, city officials and the EPA can better prepare and take action to prevent lead levels from reaching 15 ppb levels.
According to the proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule, systems above 10 ppb but below 15 ppb would be required to increase inspections, set an annual goal for conducting replacements, and conduct outreach to encourage resident participation in replacement programs. Water systems above 15 ppb would be required to annually replace portions of the lead service lines.
As part of the initiative, the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched a new website that summarizes available federal programs dedicated to assisting or funding lead service line replacements.
Lead Problems In City Water Systems
Lead poisoning can pose serious health risks to children. A study published in 2013 indicated even low levels of lead in the blood can affect a child’s school performance, especially reading readiness for children entering kindergarten. Other effects include injury to the nervous system, brain damage, seizures, growth retardation, mental retardation, coma, and even death.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects.
New reports are finding many lead exposures are the result of aging lead pipe water supply lines, which were installed in cities nationwide before the dangers of lead were well known, meaning many still have thousands of lead service lines which run from water mains into homes.
According to a recent report published by Bloomberg News earlier this year, cities with aging lead service lines may pose serious health risks nationwide. The report highlighted ten cities that have reported lead levels above 15 parts per billion over the last two years, which is the standard the EPA calls its “action level” due to a potential risk of injury for consumers.
Earlier this year, the EPA issued a letter to New Jersey government officials detailing the findings from samples collected from the Newark residence’s tap water, which the agency indicates is not safe for consumption due to the risk of lead poisoning, even after the city supplied tens of thousands of free water filters to residents.