EPA’s three new service line notices: Critical to transparency and accelerating lead pipe replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

This is the second in a series of blogs evaluating various aspects of EPA’s December 2020 revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and what they may mean for accelerating lead service line (LSL) replacements. The blogs cover: 1) new service line inventory; 2) three new LSL notices; 3) environmental justice implications; 4) communicating health effects of lead; 5) economic implications; and 6) sampling and trigger/action level.

Note that President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis directs agencies to review the former administration’s regulations and actions, including the Lead and Copper Rule. 

Three new notices required by the revised LCR from water systems to people with known or potential LSLs provide critical opportunities to build public support for LSL replacement by helping individuals better understand their situation and specific actions they should take. However, we recognize that, like all notices, many people may simply ignore them, especially if only delivered as an insert to a monthly or quarterly bill. We anticipate that notices will be most effective when coupled with broader outreach efforts and requirements that property owners share the notice with potential buyers and tenants.

As explained in a previous blog on the new service line inventories, water systems must assign all service lines to one of four categories. The rule treats three categories – “Lead,” “Galvanized Requiring Replacement,” and “Lead Status Unknown” – as known or potential service lines containing lead. People receiving water from a service line in any of these three categories must receive three new types of notices designed to prompt them to take steps to address the risk of lead in their drinking water pursuant to 40 CFR § 141.85(e) to (g). The three types of notices are:

  1. An annual notice;
  2. A notice of disturbance to service line; and
  3. A notice if trigger or action levels exceeded.

Annual notice for customers and persons served by a service line that is or may be an LSL

Beginning in January 2024, water systems must send an annual notice to all persons served by a service line that is either “Lead,” “Galvanized Requiring Replacement,” or “Lead Status Unknown” based on the service line inventory. New customers – usually those buying an existing home – must be notified when the service is initiated. The notice is sent by mail or another method approved by the State. Table 1 provides the required content of each type of notice.

The three different types of annual notices vary based on the category of service line material. Those served by “non-lead” service lines do not need to be notified (even though they may have a lead pipe connector). If a system only has “non-lead” service lines, no notice is required.

Table 1. Three variations of annual notices based on service line material

Content in NoticeLead*Galvanized Requiring ReplacementLead Status Unknown
Status of person’s service lineService line is lead.Service line is galvanized requiring replacement.Service line material is unknown but may be lead.
Mandatory statement on the health effects of lead“Health effects of lead. Exposure to lead in drinking water can cause serious health effects in all age groups. Infants and children can have decreases in IQ and attention span. Lead exposure can lead to new learning and behavior problems or exacerbate existing learning and behavior problems. The children of women who are exposed to lead before or during pregnancy can have increased risk of these adverse health effects. Adults can have increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or nervous system problems.”
Steps a person can takeSteps persons with the service connection can take to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water.
Additional informationOpportunities to replace LSL.Opportunities to verify the material of the service line.
Water system is required to replace its portion of an LSL when the property owner notifies them they are replacing their portion of the LSL.
Programs that provide financing solutions to assist property owners with replacement of their portion of an LSL.
*Rule refers to it as “confirmed LSL.”

The rule says that the notice goes to “persons served by the water system at the service connection,” but does not provide more details. Presumably, this refers to anyone who drinks the water, which could include residents, employees, and customers of businesses at the property. We expect that EPA will provide guidance on the scope as 2024 approaches.

Notice of disturbance to a service line that is or may be an LSL

Beginning in March 2024, water systems must notify people served by a service line if the system causes a disturbance to a “Lead,” “Galvanized Requiring Replacement,” or “Lead Status Unknown” service line (based on the service line inventory) that results in the water to an individual service line being shut-off or bypassed. The disturbances include activities as small as closing a valve on the service line or setting a meter.

The notice must include information about the potential for elevated lead levels in drinking water as a result of the disturbance as well as instructions for a flushing procedure to remove particulate lead. The notice must be given before the line is returned to service.

In addition, if the disturbance involves replacement of an inline water meter, a water meter setter, gooseneck, pigtail, or lead connector, the water system must also provide:

  • Public education materials[1] that include a mandatory statement on the health effects of lead for an LSL (see Table 1).
  • A pitcher filter or point-of-use device certified by an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited certifier to reduce lead, instructions to use the filter, and six months of filter replacement cartridges.

There are additional requirements if the water system is conducting partial or full LSL replacements.

Notice if lead trigger or action levels are exceeded

Beginning in March 2024, water systems that exceed a trigger level of 10 ppb or an action level of 15 ppb based on the 90th percentile of tap water monitoring must provide a special notice to people served by a “Lead,” “Galvanized Requiring Replacement,” or “Lead Status Unknown” service line (based on the service line inventory). This notice must be delivered within 30 days of ending the tap sampling period, and it must describe the water system’s LSL replacement program and opportunities for LSL replacement. This notice complements other broader notices to the community and those whose tap water had high levels of lead.

Our recommendations

The three new service line notices will provide critical opportunities to accelerate LSL replacement when coupled with broader outreach efforts and requirements that property owners share the notice with potential buyers and tenants.

To ensure the new requirements advance replacement efforts, we recommend:

  • Water systems should begin immediately to phase in the notices, starting with those who have confirmed LSLs (“lead” or “galvanized requiring replacement) and moving to “lead status unknown” service lines. The notices should be coupled with a broader outreach effort.
  • States and communities should require property owners to provide the annual or new customer notice to potential buyers and tenants. Some have already acted but more is needed.
  • EPA and states should provide water systems with guidance, technical assistance, and templates to help them begin providing notices and supplement the effort with public information on EPA and state LCR webpages.

[1] The public education materials must be submitted to the state prior to delivery.

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