EDF Health

Promising proposal for addressing lead in schools and licensed child care – but gaps remain

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

See all blogs in our LCR series.

Update: On February 5, 2020, we submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its proposal. 

Through its proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA made the unprecedented move of proposing to require community water systems (CWSs) to test for lead in water at all schools and licensed child care facilities constructed prior to 2014. The current rule only requires testing if the facility is itself a regulated water system (e.g., uses own private well). While EDF fully supports testing in these facilities, we are concerned that EPA has overlooked several major issues, especially in the child care context.

Based on our experience – including a pilot project to test and remediate lead in 11 child care facilities, a training program for child care providers in Illinois, and monitoring of state child care testing requirements across the country – we believe that addressing lead in child care facilities is an important opportunity to improve public health. Though schools are also critical, we’ve focused on child care facilities as they present a major gap due to a number of reasons. First, children under the age of six are more susceptible to the harmful effects of lead – and those at the highest risk are infants who are fed formula reconstituted with tap water. Second, child care, especially home-based facilities, are often smaller operations than schools, and therefore more likely to have a lead service line. Finally, child care facilities often lack robust facility support and public accountability that schools may have.

From our background on this issue, we have identified three key flaws with EPA’s proposal. Specifically, it:

  1. Ignores lead service lines,
  2. Relies on inadequate sampling, and
  3. Does not provide sufficient support for remediation.

We also are concerned that the result of this proposed rule may sound like “one hand clapping.” If state licensing agencies and local health departments are not requiring or promoting testing, child care facilities are unlikely to cooperate, making it more difficult for CWSs to comply with the requirement. For this requirement to have greatest effect, CWSs need the support and participation of all parties involved.

This blog will provide an overview of EPA’s proposed requirement and an analysis of each of the key issues. Read More »

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Which faucets and fixtures have the lowest lead levels? California asks plumbing manufacturers.

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

Until California Water Board publishes its lists of fixtures that leach minimal lead, we recommend that schools and child care facilities routinely flush newly installed drinking water fixtures for several weeks and retest before allowing children to consume the water.

In November, the California Water Board took an important step that should benefit anyone seeking to buy a new faucet, drinking water fountain or other fixture – especially schools and child care facilities. The Board sent letters to more than 300 plumbing manufacturers and certifiers asking them to voluntarily provide information on fixtures that leach minimal lead. Specifically, it seeks to identify fixtures that meet lead leaching limits that are five times more protective than the current limits in the NSF/ANSI 61 standard.

The Board plans to make the compiled responses publicly available and encourage the 14,000 licensed child care centers in the state to buy new fixtures from those on the list when water testing indicates the fixture should be replaced. We anticipate that the Board will utilize the list to identify fixtures to purchase through a $5 million grant program the California State General Legislature established when it enacted AB-2370 last year. The funds are designed to help licensed child care facilities meet the state’s new mandated water testing and remediation program.

Read More »

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EDF asks EPA to strengthen key lead service line definition, inventory, and notification provisions in its proposed revision to the LCR

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

See all blogs in our LCR series.

Yesterday, EDF submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on their proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), focusing on changes that EPA should to make to the:

  • Definition of a lead service line (LSL);
  • Requirements for water systems to develop LSL inventories; and
  • Notification of individual consumers who drink water that passes through an LSL.

We highlighted strengths and weaknesses of the LCR in a blog earlier this week, and we encourage states and communities to consider adopting the positive provisions now in addition to the changes we ask EPA to adopt in these comments. Below is a summary of our comments on these three issues. We plan to address other issues on the proposed revisions to the LCR in later comments.

Lead Service Line Definition

EPA’s proposed change to the current definition of an LSL at 40 CFR § 141.2 is flawed because it continues to exempt goosenecks, pigtails, or other connectors made of lead. These connectors are a major source of lead in drinking water not just because they are made of lead, but because they can release significant amounts of lead particulate into water as they flex with temperature, are scoured by turbulent water flow, and as other conditions change.

The exemption of these connectors from the definition of an LSL would render a water system’s LSL inventory and periodic notices to customers misleading because service lines described as “non-lead” may actually have some lead pipe in them. This will give residents a false sense of security. We recommend that the agency modify the proposed definition by deleting the exemption and explicitly stating that goosenecks, pigtails and connectors made of lead are LSLs.

Read More »

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Despite its flaws, states and communities should get ahead of the curve on EPA’s proposed lead in drinking water rule

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

See all blogs in our LCR series.

In October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed changes to its outdated Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), the federal regulation designed to control those contaminants in drinking water. As the result of more than a decade of work by dedicated agency experts, the proposal makes several improvements to key parts of the rule, including requirements for lead service line (LSL) inventories and customer notification. LSLs are the lead pipes that connect the main under the street to homes and buildings and are the most significant source of lead in drinking water.

Unfortunately, EPA’s proposed rule has several serious flaws, including that it:

  • Continues to treat full LSL replacement as a last resort. The proposed rule should make LSL replacement an integral part of a long-term solution, including periodic benchmarks for all water systems to achieve regardless of water testing results.
  • Continues to allow water systems to conduct partial replacements where the property owner is unwilling or unable to pay the cost for the portion not owned by the water system. Partial LSL replacement may significantly increase lead levels in drinking water for months and does not reliably reduce lead levels in the long term. While water systems would be required to gives residents tools (e.g. advanced notice and filters) to reduce the exposure, more is needed. EPA’s own analysis finds that relying on a resident’s ability-to-pay to replace the LSL on their property to avoid partial replacements will leave low-income households with disproportionately higher health risks.
  • Backslides on the rate of mandatory LSL replacement. When a water system’s lead levels are so high that full LSL replacement is mandated, EPA proposes an annual replacement rate that gives the system at least 33 years rather than the current minimum of 15 years to replace all of its LSLs. While more systems are likely to have to conduct mandatory full LSL replacement because of the stricter sampling requirements, most will not.

EPA is accepting comments on the proposed revisions until February 12, 2020. We are preparing detailed comments calling for the agency to fix the flaws before finalizing the rule, and we encourage others to comment as well.

Despite these shortcomings, we want to highlight four positive elements of the proposed rule and encourage states and communities to consider implementing them now – not just because they are likely to be required in the future – but also because they set the stage for full LSL replacement. These elements are that water systems must:

  • Develop an LSL inventory, update it annually, and make it publicly accessible;
  • Notify customers that they have or may have an LSL;
  • Take precautions when disturbing LSLs; and
  • Sample more homes with LSLs and take earlier action based on the results.

In this blog, we provide an overview of these key improvements. In future blogs, we will describe our recommendations to strengthen the rule based on our comments to the agency.

Read More »

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Illinois poised to strictly limit partial lead service line replacement: How does it compare to Michigan and proposed EPA rules?

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

Illinois is poised to be the second state in the country to strictly limit the practice of partially replacing lead service lines (LSL). Partially – rather than fully – replacing these lines that connect the drinking water main under the street to homes can significantly increase lead levels in drinking water for months and does not reliably reduce lead levels over time. Last week, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) released amendments to the Illinois Plumbing Code that include significant restrictions on partial LSL replacements. If the state’s legislative oversight committee for rulemaking does not object, the agency can finalize the rule.

If adopted, the changes would set the stage for all LSLs and galvanized service lines in the state to eventually be fully replaced. The changes are significant because the Illinois has an estimated 679,000 LSLs, by far the most in the country, as well as 60,000 galvanized service lines, and an additional 1.07 million service lines of unknown material that may be lead.

Michigan, with its estimated 460,000 LSLs, took a similar action in June 2018 when it strengthened its version of Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). However, Michigan’s rule applies only to public water systems (PWS). In contrast, Illinois’s planned revisions apply to anyone who alters a service line including both PWSs and licensed plumbers.

In October, EPA proposed revisions to the LCR. However, unlike Michigan and Illinois, EPA’s proposed rule would continue to allow PWSs to conduct partial replacements where the property owner is unwilling or unable to pay the cost for the portion not owned by the PWS.

Read More »

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Where are Illinois’ lead pipes? Chicago Water has nearly 60%, and small systems don’t know.

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

Chicago is the epicenter for lead service lines (LSLs) in the United States. In a report submitted to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) in April, Chicago Water reported having 392,614 LSLs – 75% of the total service lines in its water system that serves 2.7 million people living in the city and the city’s 125 suburbs. The number of LSLs is over three times higher than any other city. For additional context, this number represents 58% of the known LSLs in Illinois and 6% of the estimated 6.1 million LSLs in the country.

Chicago Water also reported an additional 120,760 service lines as unknown material that may be lead. Only 7,299 (2%) of its total service lines are made of something other than lead.

These numbers are based on the second year of mandatory reporting that IEPA makes publicly available. Earlier this year, we summarized the first year of reporting. In the second year of reporting, IEPA improved the program by allowing CWSs to separately report lines of unknown material where the utility was confident they were not LSLs – most likely because the lines were installed after the date the CWS stopped allowing use of lead. So the remaining lines of “unknown material” were more likely to be lead. In addition, all community water systems (CWSs) in the state reported in the second year.[1] Given these improvements, we looked more closely at the data.

Read More »

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