EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead in Drinking Water

Lead from a new “lead-free” brass faucet? More common than you’d hope

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

Until NSF/ANSI 61 standard is updated to reduce or eliminate lead leaching, users must extensively clean and flush new brass fixtures before use and make a short flush standard practice for older fixtures.

During this past year, we undertook a pilot project to tackle the problem of lead in drinking water at child care facilities. As part of the effort, we collected 250 mL samples (about 8 ounces of water) from every drinking water fixture, as recommended in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 3Ts guidance for schools and child care facilities. We replaced 26 faucets that exceeded our action level with new brass faucets that were labeled “lead-free” and complied with NSF/ANSI 61 standard for drinking water system components.[1] To our surprise, when we sampled the faucets a few days after replacement, the lead levels were higher– between 9 and 10 ppb – on three of the new faucets.

The increase left us scratching our heads. Federal law allows a drinking water fixture to be labeled “lead-free” if the amount of lead in wetted surfaces[2] averages less than 0.25% (down from the 8% limit between 1986 and 2014). However, it isn’t clear how much this amount might contribute to levels of lead in water. To explore this issue, we contacted the supplier who said its product was certified under NSF/ANSI 61 and, therefore, not likely the source. The supplier suggested the source could be from existing upstream valves or from disturbing the plumbing. We could not rule these other possibilities out.

A study by Virginia Tech’s Jeff Parks on three models of new NSF/ANSI 61 certified brass faucets found similar results and concluded that even newly manufactured “lead-free” faucets may not meet the 1 ppb limit that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends for schools.

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EPA Updates its 3Ts Guidance for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water

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

Earlier this month, EPA released its updated 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water Toolkit, which provides guidance for schools and child care facilities seeking to ensure children are safe from lead in water.  The new 3Ts – an update to the agency’s 2006 guidance – is now a web-based toolkit that includes modules, customizable templates, and factsheets.

Overall, the new toolkit is an improvement.  While the protocol itself is largely the same, the new toolkit is more user friendly and written for the non-technical audience, making it more likely that school and child care staff will use it.  EPA has also reframed the toolkit from “Training, Testing, and Telling” to “Training, Testing, and Taking Action” – placing more emphasis on the critical step of addressing lead sources than the previous version.  “Telling” is now integrated throughout the entire toolkit to highlight the importance of communication at every step. The agency has also developed a helpful flushing best practices factsheet, which is a topic that often causes considerable confusion.

In EDF’s June 2018 report on our pilot of 11 child care facilities, “Tackling lead in water at child care facilities,” we recommended EPA update its 2006 guidance to address four key gaps.  The agency has made progress on the two most important of those but leaves the other two unresolved. The most important change to the guidance is that the agency has removed the 20 parts per billion (ppb) action level and instead recommends action whenever there are “elevated lead levels.” While EPA does not define an elevated lead level, a deep dive into the appendix suggests that levels over 5 ppb warrant follow-up. The updated guidance also puts a greater emphasis on the identification of lead service lines (LSLs) and includes LSL replacement as a permanent control measure, though not as an explicit recommendation. Further, the agency did not update the protocol to deal with challenges posed by aerator cleaning and hot water heaters.  Below we explore each of these issues in further detail. Read More »

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New report: Tackling lead in drinking water at child care facilities

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

Recent crises around lead in drinking water have focused national attention on the harmful effects of children’s exposure to lead. While the particular vulnerability of children to lead is well understood by most – what might be surprising is that the majority of child care facilities are not required to test their water for lead.

Only 7 states and one city have such regulations on the books. And while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided a voluntary guidance, the “3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water,” for schools and child care, the document has significant gaps in the child care setting – including an outdated action level of 20ppb and little emphasis on identifying and replacing lead service lines.

Given the critical need for more investigation in this area, we conducted a pilot project to evaluate new approaches to testing and remediating lead in water at child care facilities. EDF collaborated with local partners to conduct lead in water testing and remediation in 11 child care facilities in Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, and Ohio. We have previously blogged about some early takeaways from testing hot water heaters and our preliminary findings from the project. Today, we released our final report, which provides the full results of the pilot and recommendations to better protect children moving forward.

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Lead in hot water – an issue worth testing

Preliminary testing results: 50% (7 of 14) of water heater tanks tested in child care centers had levels over 50 ppb with one at 2,680 ppb. For all but one of these, flushing through the tank drain significantly reduced the lead levels in the water heater. At the hot water tap, only 4 of 161 (2%) samples were above EDF's action level (3.8 ppb). Water heaters may function as “lead traps,” but more investigation is needed. Best to avoid using hot water for cooking or drinking.

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director. Analysis conducted by Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager.

Last March, I was giving a talk on lead and drinking water at the National Lead and Healthy Housing Conference. A questioner from a state health department asked me why the standard lead testing methods only sample cold water when experience suggests that people use hot water when making infant formula, dissolving powered drinks, and cooking food. After mumbling for a few minutes that people are supposed to drink cold water, I realized that I really didn’t know the answer – but should.

When risk assessment ignores real life, we are bound to miss something important. For hot water, I think we may be.

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American Water lays out a plan for replacing lead pipes in its Indiana systems

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Updated May 4, 2018: The IURC issued an order on March 7 scheduling an evidentiary hearing for May 7, 2018 at 9:30 am at its offices in Indianapolis.  In advance of the meeting, the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor,  the state agency representing taxpayers interests, filed a brief supporting Indiana American Water's proposal to replace LSLs using ratepayer funds with six modifications.  No parties opposed the proposal.  In response, Indiana American Water accepted some but not all of the modifications.

The Indiana subsidiary of American Water Company filed a plan in January 2018 with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to fully replace lead service lines (LSLs) in the communities it serves within the next 10 to 24 years. The company estimates that 50,000 of its 300,000 customers in the state have lead pipe in a portion of the service line connecting the main under the street with the building.

The plan is the first submitted to the IURC in response to legislation enacted by the Indiana General Assembly in April 2017 and authored by Rep. Heath VanNatter. If the IURC approves the plan, the company can seek Commission approval to include LSL replacement on private property as an eligible infrastructure improvement whose costs can be covered by rates paid by customers.

With the plan, American Water is essentially embracing the goal articulated by EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council and the American Water Works Association that the United States needs to eliminate LSLs. We applaud that goal and American Water’s commitment – while it will take time to achieve, people should not be drinking water through lead pipes, even with optimal corrosion control. Read More »

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Wisconsin law removes crucial barrier to lead pipe replacement

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

Yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation that takes an important step to replacing the 240,000 lead service lines (LSLs) in communities across the state. SB-48 allows municipalities and water utilities to provide financial assistance to property owners to replace LSLs on private property. We described the legislation in an earlier blog – and applauded the critical work of state advocates in building support for the law.

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