Selected category: Drinking Water

Protecting the most vulnerable: Lead in drinking water testing requirements for child care centers

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

Children under the age of 6 are most vulnerable to the detrimental impacts of lead exposure. Even at low levels, lead exposure can harm the brain development of young children – resulting in learning and behavioral problems for the rest of their lives.

The recent national attention on lead in drinking water and reports of high levels in certain schools has spurred action to address the problem in schools. As a result of state-level requirements and voluntary state programs, many schools across the country are testing their drinking water for lead and taking actions to fix problems.

In contrast, child care centers (also called day care centers or early childhood education centers) have gone relatively unnoticed – even though they serve children at their most vulnerable ages.

We decided to take a closer look at the issue by examining state child care licensing regulations, recent legislative actions, and voluntary programs addressing drinking water testing at child care centers. Through our research, we identified several states that have or are developing proactive programs to test for lead in child care centers’ drinking water and take action when high levels are found. Although our focus was on states, we also identified cities addressing this issue with local resources.

Read More »

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Fourteen communities set goal of replacing more than 240,000 lead pipes and 19 take important steps forward

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Sam Lovell, Project Specialist

An estimated 6 to 10 million homes in the US still get their water from aging lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes connecting the water main under the street to homes and other buildings. As the primary source of lead in drinking water, eliminating LSLs is essential to protecting public health and responding to community concerns.

Communities across the country are taking on the challenges posed by LSLs. EDF considers it important to recognize those leaders who are taking action. In a past blog, we highlighted the work of the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative and its 25 members, including EDF, in developing a toolkit to help communities accelerate replacement of LSLs. Additionally, the American Water Works Association – the main organization for drinking water professionals – deserves recognition for its declaration that LSLs need to be eliminated.

Through our review of publicly available information, EDF identified:

  • 14 communities that have publicly set a goal of eliminating LSLs in their jurisdiction – which collectively represents more than 240,000 LSLs. Setting a goal of full replacement is a critical step in the process—while clearly much work remains to ensure that LSLs are safely replaced.
  • 19 other communities that are taking important steps to replace LSLs, but may not yet be ready or willing to set a public goal of full replacement.

Read More »

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Progress takes vigilance to reduce children’s exposure to lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

The United States has made significant progress over the past fifteen years towards reducing children’s exposure to lead. While much more needs to be done to eliminate the more than $50 billion a year in societal costs from lead, the progress is good news for children since it is well known that there is no safe level of lead in children, and it can impair their brain development, contribute to learning and behavioral problems, and lower IQs.

Achieving this progress has required a diligent and ongoing commitment from all levels of government. If we expect to continue to make progress – and not backslide – the federal government needs to remain committed to reducing sources of lead exposure. So far what we’ve seen from the Trump Administration raises serious concerns about any real commitment to protecting children’s health, including from lead.

Lead has a toxic legacy from decades of extensive use in paint, gasoline, and water pipes. As long as lead is in the paint, pipes, and soil where we live, work and play, progress is far from inevitable. Protecting children from lead takes constant vigilance, especially when the paint or plumbing is disturbed. Flint provided a tragic example of what happens when we turn away. Without vigilance, the positive trends we have seen in blood lead levels could all too easily reverse course and go up. That is why the proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget, which would eliminate the agency’s lead-based paint programs, are yet another indication that this Administration is turning its back on protecting children’s health.

Mean blood lead levels in young children dropped 56% from 1999 to 2014

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrates that from 1999 to 2014 the levels of lead in children’s blood or “blood lead levels” (BLL) dropped preciptiously. Average BLLs in young children declined by 56% during that period with the rate of decline increasing after 2010. For children with a BLL greater than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter (µg/dL), the reduction was an impressive 86%. Read More »

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EPA's Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee recommends four top priorities for EPA to protect kids from lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

For the past 20 years, the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC), with its diverse members that include pediatricians and industry toxicologists, has been responding to requests for guidance from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators. In December 2016, EPA’s Administrator asked CHPAC to provide the agency with its “highest priority advice” on lead. Citing the children’s health risks posed by lead, the economic and racial disparities and the demonstrated effectiveness of national leadership on the issue, on April 6, CHPAC sent the new administrator, Scott Pruitt, a letter with its four recommended priorities:

  1. Strengthen the Agency’s Lead-Based Paint Hazards Standard for lead in paint, dust, and soil. CHPAC stated that the “best evidence shows that a young child living in a home meeting the current lead dust standard still has a 50% chance of exceeding the CDC reference level for blood lead.” The EPA standard is so insufficient and outdated that on February 1, 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would require its lead hazard control grantees to meet a more protective level that is one-fourth of EPA’s standard.
  1. Revise the Lead and Copper Rule to reduce lead in drinking water. CHPAC highlighted several high profile incidents of high levels of lead in drinking water and called for EPA to overhaul its 1991 Lead and Copper Rule to better protect children, especially infants dependent on formula for nutrition. CHPAC recommended the revisions be consistent with the recommendations from the agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Committee and the lessons from recent water system lead contaminations.
  1. Improve risk communication efforts to provide clarity and consistency. CHPAC asked that EPA revise its “Protect Your Family from Lead In Your Home” booklet that is given to every family buying or renting a home built before 1978 so that it more effectively helps families make decisions regarding the risks posed by lead. The committee cited three problems with the booklet, it:
    • insufficiently describes other important lead sources including, but not limited to, drinking water faucets, plumbing, traditional and cultural products, and take-home exposures from work”;
    • treats all homes built before 1978 as equal and does not explain that the likelihood of having lead-based paint varies dramatically based on the age of the home”; and
    • “relies heavily on text rather than graphics making it less effective for some audiences.”
  1. Encourage the Administration’s infrastructure investment program to support healthy housing, childcare facilities, and schools, and safe drinking water. CHPAC recommended that EPA work closely with other federal partners on the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children to help ensure that all Administration infrastructure investment programs make housing, childcare facilities, and schools healthier, and drinking water safer.

The letter was sent a day after the Washington Post reported on a leaked March 21, 2017 agency memo that details how EPA plans to execute the 31% cuts to its overall budget called for in the President’s proposed budget. The article’s headline says it all: “Trump’s EPA moves to dismantle programs that protect kids from lead paint.” If Congress goes along with these cuts, it is difficult to imagine how the agency could fulfill its basic responsibilities much less implement CHPAC’s recommendations to protect kids from lead.

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Lead service lines on private property – 3 states’ approaches to the challenge

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

After the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, there is broad agreement that lead service lines (LSLs) need to be replaced. While corrosion control is essential, it isn’t a fail-safe, long-term solution. With the risks posed by lead to children’s brain development, we must eliminate LSLs – which currently account for an estimated 50 to 75% of the lead in drinking water.

One of the most significant challenges is determining who pays for replacing the portion of a LSL on private property and how it can be done in a way that does not leave low-income residents behind. Most utilities consider service lines on private property to be the responsibility of the property owner. They see replacing customer-owned portions of LSLs as improvements to private property and are typically restricted from using funds collected from all customers to fund an upgrade that benefits only a few. States often impose restrictions as well.

The interpretation that customers are responsible for LSLs on their property is ironic in communities such as Chicago, which mandated the use of LSLs until Congress banned them in 1986.  Given that they had a hand in creating the problem, it seems that they have at least some responsibility in fixing it. The threat posed by lead was well known for decades before Congress acted. Cities such as Cincinnati banned the use of lead pipes in 1927 and Boston in the 1930s.

It is difficult to put responsibility solely on the homeowner since they are unlikely to have been told they have a LSL by the seller. Even if they were aware that their home is serviced by an LSL, the risk a LSL poses to their family’s health is only now becoming clear.

Without support, low-income residents often cannot afford to pay for their portion of the LSL replacement, even if they get zero- or low-interest loans. However, wealthy residents have more options to make the investment than their low-income neighbors and landlords should be making the investment as part of their business.

In December 2016, Congress weighed in and authorized EPA “to establish a $300 million grant program to replace lead service lines on residential property in disadvantaged communities.”[1] It is up to Congress to appropriate the funds as part of its infrastructure investments and ensure that the grant program will not be a hollow promise.

But many states are not waiting on Congress. Three states, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, have been wrestling with whether to allow communities to use a portion of rates paid by customers to pay for LSL replacements. Collectively, these states have an estimated 690,000 LSLs, 11% of the national estimate. In this blog, we will explore these three state approaches. Read More »

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Report: Grading the nation on lead pipe disclosure policies

Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.  

When purchasing a home, buyers expect to be informed about deficiencies, defects, or environmental hazards on the property. Since 1996, there have been federal policies to alert buyers about lead in paint. However, the likelihood that a buyer will be told their prospective home has lead pipes, including a lead service line, depends on the state in which they live.

Lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes connecting water mains under the street to homes and other buildings – are the primary source of lead in drinking water. Up to 10 million homes across the nation continue to receive water through LSLs, putting millions at risk of lead exposure. Homebuyers deserve to know about this liability when they choose a home and negotiate a price. When done properly, removing the full LSL significantly reduces the risk of lead exposure.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) analyzed and graded the housing disclosure policies of all U.S. states and the District of Columbia according to their ability to help homebuyers make informed decisions about LSLs before they sign a sales contract by assessing state disclosure laws, required disclosure forms, and voluntary disclosure forms.  We did not address the extent to which LSLs are actively being disclosed under each policy. Read More »

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