New EPA Lead and Copper Rule Inadequate

For immediate release: Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Contact:  Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

 

New EPA Lead and Copper Rule Inadequate

Final Rule Perpetuates Risk to Minority Communities

Washington, DC – Yesterday, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced a final regulation known as the “Lead and Copper Rule” for America’s drinking water. Although this is the first major revision of the rule governing lead in drinking water in 30 years, it actually weakens the requirement to replace lead pipes thus perpetuating lead poisoning, a known risk for minority communities. Its effect gives utilities more than twice as much time to replace some of the most contaminated lead service lines.

It is a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to issue a regulation that “backslides” — or weakens – an existing regulation. Yet, after decades of delay since the agency issued its current SDWA regulation in 1991, EPA’s new regulation allows unhealthy lead pipes to remain for up to 33 years. Specifically, EPA left the lead action level intact, so there is no requirement to increase the number of lead service lines that need to be replaced. Moreover, enforcement mechanisms are unclear and complicated, which will further delay line replacement.

“This revision takes little real action,” said Kyla Bennett, PEER’s chief scientist. “After the Flint, Michigan, disaster, Wheeler’s EPA had a chance to give environmental justice a win, as there is no safe level of lead, and this issue disproportionately impacts minority communities. PEER will urge the Biden Administration to rescind the Rule, recognizing that it will likely be overturned in litigation if they don’t.”

Thousands of major drinking water systems throughout the nation still use old lead service lines to provide water to consumers. In addition, privately owned pipes entering houses, apartments, commercial and municipally-owned properties (including schools) may contain lead pipes and solder. Relatively small amounts of lead can cause significant neurological damage, especially in the youngest children. Minority communities, often situated in areas of higher pollution and poverty, are especially at risk from lead in drinking water because minority infants tend to consume more unfiltered water, compared with infants in less-impacted areas, often through mixing the neurotoxin-laden water with baby formula.

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Read EPA’s final lead and copper rule

See PEER’s comment on the draft rule