Examining Options to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week marks a time when EPA and our federal partners promote education and awareness activities that focus on lead and how to prevent its negative health effects.  This year, we focus on the theme, “Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future.”  It’s through our joint efforts that we have been able to make significant strides in reducing exposure to lead over the past several decades.

Data show that from 1976 – 1980 the median blood lead level of a child (1-5 years old) was 15 micrograms per deciliter.  Those levels have been dramatically reduced since then, to 1 microgram per deciliter, based on the most recent data. These major improvements were made over the past several decades by removing lead from toys and lead solder in cans, taking lead out of gasoline, reducing exposure to lead in paint and dust in homes and during renovations, greatly reducing the allowable content of lead in plumbing materials in homes and other buildings, and further reducing lead in drinking water through the federal Lead and Copper Rule. Although we have taken significant steps to protect our children from the detrimental effects of lead poisoning, there’s more to do.

To further reduce exposure to lead from drinking water, EPA recognizes the need to strengthen and modernize the Lead and Copper Rule, which is now 25 years old.  EPA has been working intensely to develop proposed revisions to the LCR, and we expect to propose a rule in 2017. With that in mind, EPA is releasing a White Paper on the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions to ensure that stakeholders are informed of the options that EPA is considering as part of the rulemaking process. This paper provides examples of regulatory options that EPA is evaluating and highlights key challenges, opportunities, and analytical issues presented by these options. EPA expects the paper will help facilitate our ongoing engagement with stakeholders and the public as we work to develop a proposed rule.

Topics addressed in the white paper released today include consideration of lead service line replacement, improving optimal corrosion control treatment requirements, consideration of a health-based benchmark for household-level interventions, the potential role of point-of-use filters, clarifications or strengthening of tap sampling requirements, increased transparency, and enhanced public education requirements. Additional information under consideration includes copper requirements and addressing broader lead issues.

Many of the topics and options were developed based on recommendations from EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council, the Science Advisory Board, the national experience in carrying out the requirements of the existing rule, the experience in Flint, Michigan and other cities nationwide, as well as feedback and input from a broad range of stakeholders, experts and concerned citizens.  EPA will continue to engage actively with stakeholders and we expect that this paper will help to inform that engagement as we work to develop a proposed rule for public comment. We also recognize that there may be other considerations that will need to be addressed as we continue our discussion and receive feedback through the rulemaking process.

EPA understands that there is no single answer or simple solution for reducing lead in drinking water. However, EPA is committed to ensuring that we use best available science, carry out the most robust analyses of regulatory options and are informed by stakeholder input as we update the rule to protect the American public from lead in drinking water.

Revising the Lead and Copper Rule is also part of our broader work to improve the safety and reliability of drinking water in America. Earlier this year we announced the development of a national action plan for drinking water, which will outline strategies for issues such as implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, equity in infrastructure funding, and emerging contaminants. We expect to release this plan in the coming weeks.

To learn more visit: https://www.epa.gov/dwstandardsregulations/lead-and-copper-rule-long-term-revisions

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