EDF Health

City of Washington, DC requires lead pipe disclosure and tackles past partial LSL replacements

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Washington, DC estimates there are 48,000 lead service lines (LSLs) on private property, 46 percent of the total number of service lines identified by the District. While the District has not yet set a goal of eliminating LSLs, it has taken positive steps to assist residents in replacing LSLs. It has prioritized avoiding partial LSL replacements, which are likely to increase residents’ exposure to lead, especially in the months following the disturbance.

On January 16, 2019, the District passed a new law that takes additional positive steps. First, it requires property owners to disclose the presence of an LSL to potential homebuyers and renters. The city joins Cincinnati, OH and Philadelphia, PA in requiring disclosure to renters and New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania in requiring disclosure to homebuyers.

Second, it redresses past partial LSL replacements by providing financial support to homeowners who did not replace the portion on private property when they were expected to shoulder the entire burden. This is the first city we have seen take this approach. The fiscal impact statement for the law also provides insight into the cost of LSL replacement; the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), the city’s utility, estimates the average cost to replace the portion on private property is $2,000 per line. The total cost of the law over four years if fully funded is $21 million.

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Posted in Drinking Water, Health Policy, lead, Public Health, States / Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

FDA is dragging its feet while children continue to be exposed to perchlorate in food

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

It has been more than 18 months since EDF and other advocates challenged the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) May 2017 decision to continue allowing perchlorate in dry food plastic packaging and food handling equipment.

While Congress gives FDA 180 days to act on food additive petitions, FDA must act “as soon as possible” on a challenge such as ours. However, the agency has yet to complete a review of its May 2017 decision in light of our concerns and evaluate whether to either stand by it, or reverse it. We did not expect FDA would take three times longer to review a decision already made, especially since our objection is largely based on the agency’s own data.

In the meantime, perchlorate in food continues to threaten children’s brains. The chemical, a component of rocket fuel, disrupts the thyroid gland’s normal function and reduces production of the thyroid hormone needed for healthy fetal and child brain development. FDA’s own studies show increased levels of perchlorate in foods such as baby food dry cereal, indicating the chemical’s intentional use in dry food packaging is the likely source of increased exposure for young children.

How FDA got it wrong

In FDA’s May 2017 decision to continue allowing intentional use of perchlorate in contact with dry food, the agency largely relied on flawed science to assess dietary exposure. Its three central errors were:

  1. Ignoring its own data showing significantly increased exposure for children;
  2. Woefully underestimating exposure based on a flawed migration test; and
  3. Unrealistically assuming that perchlorate-laden plastic would only contact food once.

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Posted in FDA, Food, Health Policy, Health Science, perchlorate, Public Health / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

EDF considers potential health equity impacts of partial lead service line replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.

“LSL replacement initiatives should address barriers to participation so that consumers served by LSLs can benefit equitably, regardless of income, race or ethnicity.”

– A founding principle of the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative

States and communities across the country are taking important steps to accelerate replacement of lead service lines (LSLs) – lead pipes connecting the water main under the street to homes and other buildings. As part of this progress, many programs have strictly limited the standard practice of partial LSL replacement – replacing only the portion of the LSL on public property, which commonly arises when rehabilitating the main and reconnecting the existing line. Partial replacement is likely to increase, at least temporarily, lead levels in drinking water in homes and may not reduce lead exposure in the long run.

The default approach for most water utilities rehabilitating their main has been to simply alert property owners to the risk of partial replacement and advise them to hire a contractor to voluntarily replace the remaining portion of the LSL on their property.

Other utilities have rejected this approach and gone further to protect residents. For example, Washington, DC offers to coordinate private side and public side replacement to reduce costs and make participation easier but still expects the property owner to pay for the private side. Others, such as Cincinnati, OH, have required full LSL replacement, providing a significant subsidy to the homeowner and allowing the cost to be spread over ten years through a property tax assessment. Indiana American Water and Philadelphia, PA go even further and pay for the cost of full LSL replacement out of ratepayer or capital improvement funds. States are acting too, with Michigan requiring utilities to pay the cost of replacement on private property and Wisconsin requiring cost sharing. For more examples, see our webpages recognizing communities and states that are leading the way.

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Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, lead, Public Health, States / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Lead in hair dye – one company considers it safe

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

In October 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of lead acetate in hair dyes in response to a March 2017 color additive petition from EDF and other health advocates. In December, we learned that Combe, Inc., the maker of the lead-acetate based hair dye Grecian Formula, objected to FDA’s decision, requested a formal evidentiary public hearing to review the decision, and claimed the use is safe. The objection puts the FDA’s decision on hold awaiting a process that may take years to resolve. Apparently, the company thinks it is safe for men to slather skin-soluble lead on their head every couple of days and to risk exposing their families to a heavy metal for which no safe level of exposure has been identified.

Combe’s action was somewhat surprising because the company told CBS News that it removed lead acetate from its Grecian Formula “quite a long time ago,” but was unable to provide an exact date. Presumably, someone in the know updated the product’s Wikipedia page, which says Grecian Formula does not contain lead acetate as of July 2018, although an earlier version of the page said April 2018.

Whatever the date it was reformulated, why would Combe block FDA’s decision when it has long sold a lead-free brand – Just For Men – and had already reportedly removed lead from Grecian Formula? From a market standpoint, objecting to FDA’s decision benefits Youthair, Combe’s main competitor, which continues to sell a leaded-version of progressive hair dye.

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Trump Administration’s lead action plan is a missed opportunity to protect kids from lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Yesterday, the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children released its long-delayed Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures and Associated Health Impacts (Lead Action Plan). A year ago the Task Force described this document as a federal lead strategy that would identify clear goals and objectives to “serve as a ‘roadmap’ for federal agencies on actions to take to reduce childhood lead exposure.” It requested feedback on the approach and received over 700 public comments.

The Trump Administration’s Lead Action Plan falls far short of what was promised. To understand what the Plan is and what it is not, we compared it to two earlier documents from the Task Force: 1) A federal lead strategy released in February 2000 by the Clinton Administration focused on reducing exposure to lead-based paint; and 2) An inventory of key federal programs released in November 2016 by the Obama Administration summarizing the activities of the 17 federal agencies and departments with responsibilities to protect children from lead.

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California Water Board makes misleading claim that only four water systems have lead lines

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

[Update 12/14/18: The California Water Boards added a webpage providing more background for customers on the inventory requirement, including the clarification that “user service line” does not include the service line on private property. This clarification was also added to the Status Map webpage.]

The California Water Board posted the results of its statewide inventory of lead service lines (LSLs) in community water systems (CWSs) yesterday. They also became the first in the nation to post the results in an interactive online map. We are pleased to see the state take this important step, but are disappointed that the press release it sent out to announce the map’s launch undermines its efforts with misleading and confusing statements.

The central problem is that the press release fails to be clear that the inventory does not cover the portion of the service line between the meter and the home or building.  As a result, a CWS that removed all of the lead pipes between the main under the street and the meter but left them on private property was listed as having no LSLs. A customer would justifiably – but mistakenly – assume that LSLs were not an issue in their community.

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