EPA Proposes Replacement of All Lead Water Pipes Within 10 Years

To protect children from the risk of lead poisoning, water providers will be required to identify all lead pipes in their inventory, improve water sampling and will implement more stringent thresholds for action when lead is detected.

U.S. environmental regulators have introduced a plan to replace the nation’s lead water pipes with a safer alternative within a decade, as part of a continuing effort to reduce the risk of lead poisoning for children and catastrophic system failures, such as the one that struck Flint, Michigan several years ago.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was making improvements to the Lead and Copper Rule on November 30, with a goal of locating the nation’s remaining lead water pipes and achieving 100% lead pipe replacement in a decade. The rule improvements also call for improved tap water sampling, and lowering the level of detectable lead that requires water systems to take action.

The agency plans to hold a public informational webinar on the Lead Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) on December 6, and a virtual public hearing where comments on the rule can be submitted on January 16, 2024.

“The proposed LCRI is a major advancement in protecting children and adults from the significant, and irreversible, health effects from being exposed to lead in drinking water,” the EPA announcement states. “These advancements are based on the science and existing practices utilized by drinking water systems.”

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Lead Water Pipe Problems

In April, the EPA release the results of a survey that found the nation has 9.2 million lead pipes transporting drinking water to homes and businesses across the U.S. The agency indicates it will cost more than $600 billion to replace them.

Toxic lead exposure is known to cause many severe and long lasting health problems, including chronic headaches, hypertension, learning disabilities, and developmental delays.

Elevated lead levels are especially hazardous for children, because their brains and organs are still developing, resulting in lifelong health and behavioral risks.

In recent years, problems with old water system pipes in Flint, Michigan illustrated the devastating effect of lead ingestion on young children. A number of water contamination lawsuits were filed by families, alleging that children were left with developmental injuries and other problems after exposure to elevated lead levels when the city switched its drinking water supply to the Flint River.

In 2020, the city agreed to a $600 million settlement to resolve Flint water crisis lawsuits. Most of the settlement was allocated to children who suffered lead exposure from the water supply and developed severe health problems as a result.

EPA Lead Pipe Replacement Plan

The EPA indicates water systems will have to conduct an inventory of their lead service lines under the new rule changes, which must be completed by October 16, 2024. The water systems will also be required to regularly update those inventories and make service line replacement plans publicly available, as well as improve their water quality sampling.

The agency itself is proposing to lower the lead action level from 15 micrograms per liter (µg/l) to 10 µg/l.

“When a water system’s lead sampling exceeds the action level, the system would be required to inform the public and take action to reduce lead exposure while concurrently working to replace all lead pipes,” the proposal states. “For example, the system would install or adjust corrosion control treatment to reduce lead that leaches into drinking water.”

When a system has had multiple high lead samples, it would be required to reach out to consumers to and provide them with filters certified to reduce the lead levels in their water.

Interested individuals can register to attend both the December 6 informational webinar and the virtual public hearing scheduled for January 16.

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