Updated US Lead Rule Falls Short In Protecting Human Health

9 Jan 2021 by The Water Diplomat
WASHINGTON DC, United States

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced the first major update to the US's lead and copper rule (LCR) in nearly 30 years. The new regulation means that homeowners, schools and childcare centres must be alerted of potential lead exposure from drinking water within 24 hours of detection. However, the revised LCR has received backlash from advocates who claim that the agency has not gone far enough to protect the health of US residents.

Although lead poisoning is dangerous for people of all ages, children are particularly vulnerable to the life-threatening health implications associated with lead poisoning. According to the US's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lead exposure in children has been linked to irreversible brain damage, hearing and speech impairments and growth and development problems. The revised lead rule requires schools and childcare centres to be tested every five years for lead contamination, however, it decreases the turnaround period for utilities to replace their lead service lines.

Despite the fact that corroded lead service lines are the underlying cause of lead contamination in drinking water, the updated lead rule slows down pipe replacement. Under the new rule cities are required to replace 3% of their lead service lines each year following exceedance of lead action levels as opposed to the previous 7 Percent requirement.

USEPA has also failed to reduce the new LCR’s action level - the rate at which water utilities must implement measures to reduce lead levels in their water supply - which currently remains at 15 parts per billion (ppb).

Non-profit public interest organisation Earthjustice reported that Sierra Club Deputy Director of Policy Advocacy and Legal, Dalal Aboulhosn, said: “Lead in water is still a major problem for families and their children all over the country. Yet the EPA today unveiled a lead rule that doctors and scientists say falls short. If this EPA is serious about stopping children from drinking lead-tainted water, then it can’t slow down the rate at which lead pipes are required to be replaced".

Groups represented by Earthjustice, including United Parents Against Lead, Newburgh Clean Water Project and the Sierra Club are expected to sue the EPA over the revised LCR.

The LCR update was unveiled the same week that Flint City Council joined a $641M settlement with its residents following a lead driven water crisis which began in 2014 when Flint, Michigan residents were exposed to lead contaminated drinking water.

The USEPA will be taken over this month by President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s nominee Michael S. Regan, North Carolina’s top environmental regulator. Mr Regan will be the first Black man to lead the EPA and will play a pivotal role in achieving the new administrations climate change agenda.