EDF Health

In major step, Chicago announces lead pipe replacement plan – but could it widen the equity gap?

Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager

In September, Chicago took an important – albeit modest – step towards tackling its colossal number of lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes providing drinking water from the main under the street to homes.

With an estimated 389,900 LSLs, Chicago has more than two times as many LSLs as any other city in the country. In fact, Chicago city code mandated their installation until 1986, when Congress banned it.  Since then, the city has largely turned a blind eye to the problem of existing lead pipes – that is, until now.

On September 10th, Mayor Lightfoot announced the city’s new Lead Service Line Replacement Program, acknowledging the problem and taking initial steps towards fully replacing its lead pipes.  While the starting investment is $19 million, Lightfoot estimates the full cost of the program, including restoration and bringing underground sewerage and water infrastructure up to code, at $8.5 billion. The city currently does not yet have the funds – or a plan – to fully cover the cost. Chicago’s move comes just weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency is slated to release its final revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule.  Read More »

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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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Denver Water proposes innovative plan to remove an estimated 75,000 lead service lines in 15 years

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

Update (12/18/19): EPA approved Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program on December 16, 2019. The utility will start implementing the program in 2020. 

Yesterday, Denver Water’s board approved its proposed “Lead Reduction Program Plan” to fully replace the estimated 75,000 lead service lines (LSLs) in their system within 15 years.  The plan is an innovative solution that will remove the primary source of lead within Denver Water’s system, while avoiding the use of orthophosphate that can further exacerbate nutrient pollution problems in rivers, streams and oceans, an issue EDF’s Ecosystems team is working hard to solve.

As proposed, Denver Water would fund full replacement of LSLs through water rates, bonds and sales of new connections to the system, hydropower production and other sources rather than have individual property owners contribute.  In addition, the utility’s proposal to provide filters to residents until their LSLs are replaced represents a model other communities should consider based on the effectiveness of their ongoing pilot.  Before implementing the plan, Denver Water will need to receive approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Read More »

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Why do we know so little about chemical exposures? Emerging technology could disrupt the status quo.

Lindsay McCormick is a Program Manager.

EDF report identifies emerging market for personal chemical exposure monitoring technologies through a first-of-its-kind analysis.

When I first started working at EDF in 2014, I learned a statistic that shocked me: We have human exposure data on less than 4% of the roughly half-million chemicals in commerce.[1] In other words, we know next to nothing about the vast majority of chemical exposures that people were experiencing on a daily basis.

Chemicals are found in nearly all commercial products and serve a foundational role in our economy. Yet this ubiquity comes with its downsides, as some chemicals are hazardous and can find their way into our environment and ultimately end up in our water, land, and air—and in our bodies. Exposure to certain chemi­cal substances have been linked to a variety of adverse health impacts, including reproductive harm, disruption of normal hormone activity, and impaired neurological development in children.

The lack of knowledge about chemical exposures poses a major problem: Without better information on exactly which chemicals individuals are exposed to every day, it is challenging to develop effective policies and interventions to reduce harmful exposures and protect health.

Disrupting the status quo

But what if anyone could use a simple home-delivered kit or wearable device to reveal the chemicals in their environment—and in their body? Such technologies could make the invisible visible—providing individuals, as well as policy makers, businesses, health professionals, and others, with critical information needed to accelerate reductions in the public’s exposure to hazardous chemicals.

In 2017, EDF pursued a Year of Innovation to better understand opportunities to advance the market for personal chemical exposure monitors (PCEMs) – with the ultimate goal of improving public health. As part of this effort, we conducted interviews and convened an expert workshop to identify bottlenecks in the development and use of such technologies.

We learned that a significant gap exists between the demand and promise of PCEM technologies and the current cost or scalability of many of the available technologies today. Experts noted that while there is significant qualitative or anecdotal evidence of demand, a quantitative understanding of the potential market for these technologies is needed to drive a robust market.

EDF took that lesson and embarked on a two-part study to fill this gap.

Read More »

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EDF to OMB: Ban on methylene chloride in paint strippers must protect workers in addition to consumers

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager, and Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director

Over 11,000 concerned Americans have sent messages to Members of Congress over the last two weeks to urge EPA and OMB to protect workers – the population at most risk – from methylene chloride in paint strippers.

Today, EDF met with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft final rule on methylene chloride-based paint strippers. We urged the office to ensure the ban on methylene chloride-based paint and coating removers covers both consumer and most commercial uses – as the agency originally proposed.

Removing these deadly products from stores, workplaces, and homes is a critical step to protecting public health. Methylene chloride is acutely lethal. Exposure to the chemical has led to over 50 reported worker deaths since the mid-1980s, more than 40 of which are attributed to use of methylene chloride-based paint strippers. Many more deaths have likely gone unreported. The chemical is also associated with a host of other serious health effects, including neurotoxicity, cancer, and liver impairment.

Despite the facts that workers represent the vast majority of reported deaths and face the highest risks of other health effects, it appears that EPA is poised to finalize a rule that excludes a ban on commercial uses entirely – and will instead merely initiate a lengthy, uncertain process that may lead to certification and training approaches EPA had already considered and rejected as inadequate to protect workers.

Read More »

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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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