EPA announces Lead and Copper Rule Improvements proposal to remove lead pipes from water service lines

The proposal requires states, water utilities, and communities to locate lead water service lines, then utility companies are tasked with replacing a minimum of 10 percent of the lead water pipes every year to reach completion within the 10-year time frame.

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The Lead and Copper Rule Improvements proposal would require water utilities throughout the United States to replace lead and certain galvanized water service lines within 10 years or less. The proposal announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) piggybacks on the Biden administration’s Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan released in 2021.

With the many dangers associated with lead exposure through water pipes, the new proposal will improve the agency’s 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, which regulates lead and copper levels in drinking water.

“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,” Michael S. Regan, EPA administrator, said. “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.”

The EPA “estimates that 9.2 million lead service lines serve water to properties in communities across the United States,” Health News reported. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law would fund the finalized rule in which $50 billion was allocated to support upgrades to the nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Out of the $50 billion, $15 billion will be allocated for lead service line replacement and $11.7 billion for Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.

“This is huge,” Natalie Exum, Ph.D. an assistant scientist in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said. “This bold step is the right one to take so that we can correct this public health issue that has been neglected for decades. The timeline to accomplish this will be a challenge for cities, but this public health emergency requires urgent action.”

The proposal requires states, water utilities, and communities to locate lead water service lines, then utility companies are tasked with replacing a minimum of 10 percent of the lead water pipes every year to reach completion within the 10-year time frame.

“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,” Radhika Fox, EPA assistant administrator for water, said. “Cities like Newark, NJ, Benton Harbor, MI, and Green Bay, WI 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.”

Some additional provisions of the proposal include:

  • Improving tap sampling
  • Lowering the Lead Action Level from 15 µg/L to 10 µg/L
  • Strengthening protections to reduce exposure

The agency will enforce the new rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act if the EPA finalizes the proposed rule.

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