EDF Health

Now’s the Time—How EPA Can Use TSCA to Turn Off the PFAS Tap

Faucet with the word PFAS flowing out of it

In the face of mounting evidence about the dangers posed by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), one thing is clear: EPA needs to take urgent action to turn off the tap of these “forever chemicals” that have long-term consequences for our health and the environment.

As we discussed in a previous blog, it is imperative that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) use the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to regulate PFAS chemicals comprehensively—both those newly entering the market and those that have been in circulation for decades.

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Lead Cables: 66,000 miles overhead or underwater

Abandoned telecom cable leaching lead into Idaho fishing waters.

Abandoned telecom cable leaching lead into Idaho fishing waters Photo: Monique Rydel-Fortner

What’s New?

A blockbuster Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigation showed that lead-sheathed telecom cables are releasing toxic lead into water or surface soil. We are aware of more than 2,000 of these cables across the nation—and more than 300 of those pose a threat to community drinking water sources.

Recognizing the potential risks to public health, EDF, Clean Water Action, and Below the Blue asked EPA on July 17 to investigate potential harms and replace abandoned lead cables strung between telephone poles, as well as any that are accessible to children.

In response, AT&T reported that it has more than 66,000 miles of lead cables, most of which are the overhead type, with the balance running underwater. This is a stunning amount – enough to circle the earth 2.5 times!

Legislators are already demanding that telecom firms act, and EPA and the Department of Justice say they are reviewing the issue. In addition, New York Governor Kathy Hochul directed three key state agencies to investigate the risks. In response, the agencies sent letters to 246 telecom providers requesting their inventory of lead cables. I also appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box to explain the situation, EDF’s role in the investigation, and the cables’ potential risks. Read More »

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Flaws found in EPA’s lead pipe survey of states and water utilities

Deep Dive: Read our Deep Dives blog for an in-depth analysis on the data that drove the 2023 allocation of federal funding for lead service line replacements.

What’s New: EPA recently estimated there are 9.2 million lead service lines (LSLs) in the nation’s drinking water infrastructure based on information reported by states and water utilities. This was collected as part of a survey conducted every four years to understand drinking water infrastructure needs.

The agency estimated the number of LSLs for each state. Two had surprisingly high numbers: Florida with 1.2 million LSLs and Texas with 650,000.

After reviewing data EPA used to estimate each state’s totals[1], we believe that these two may have less than 100,000 LSLs each. If true, this means the country may actually have about 1.6 million fewer LSLs than originally thought – good news overall.

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Top 10 cities with the most lead pipes

Roya Alkafaji, Manager, Healthy Communities and Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals Initiative

EDF identified 10 cities in the U.S. with the most lead service lines (LSLs) based on numbers reported in 2021.[1] These cities collectively have over one million LSLs, representing 12% of the 9.2 million EPA estimates are in the country.

Below we rank each city from most LSLs to fewest, and briefly describe the progress each city has made toward LSL replacement. Some have robust programs, while others have yet to start addressing the problem.

The List

1. Chicago, IL

Chicago Department of Water Management reported 387,095 LSLs in 2021, more than twice as many as the next city on this list. Three-quarters of its service lines are LSLs, and virtually all the rest are of unknown material. City ordinance actually mandated that LSLs be installed until the federal government banned them in 1986.

Decades later, Chicago is struggling to pull itself out of a deep hole relative to most other large cities that took earlier action against lead pipes. Chicago has a small LSL replacement program but applied for a $336 million loan from EPA in 2020[2] and $8 million in state revolving funds (SRF) from Illinois EPA in 2023 to accelerate the effort.

2. Cleveland, OH

Cleveland Water reported 185,409 LSLs in 2021, about 43% of all its service lines.

The utility has a small LSL replacement program but is seeking more than $63 million in federal infrastructure funding from Ohio EPA in 2023 to accelerate the effort.

3. New York, NY

New York City reported 137,542 LSLs in 2021 and an additional 230,870 lines that are of unknown material. About 43% of the city’s service lines are lead or of unknown material.

It has a small LSL replacement program and is seeking more than $58 million in federal infrastructure funding from New York State DEP in 2023 to accelerate the effort.

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Mapping Lead: Ohio issues map of properties with known lead hazards

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals Initiative, and Roya Alkafaji, Manager, Healthy Communities

What Happened: The Ohio Department of Health published an interactive map showing almost 1,200 properties whose owners have refused to comply with an order to correct known lead-based paint hazards. As a result, the Department has declared these properties are unsafe to live in until the hazards have been remediated.

Why It Matters: The availability of address-specific information is important to engage residents, potential home buyers, and renters so they can make better informed decisions about protecting their families from harmful lead exposure. Ohio is the second state after New Jersey that we’re aware of to move beyond neighborhood-level mapping of lead risks to provide specific information at the address level.

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Mapping Lead: New Jersey State map as a backbone for real progress on lead

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals Initiative and Roya Alkafaji, Manager, Healthy Communities

What Happened: The State of New Jersey published an interactive map showing potential sources of lead exposure for any given address in the state. Currently, the map specifically looks at lead-based paint in housing, though the State has plans to expand this to include other sources of lead, including drinking water from lead service lines (LSLs).

Why It Matters: The availability of address-specific information is important to engage residents, potential home buyers, and renters so they can make better informed decisions about protecting their families from harmful lead exposure. New Jersey is the first state to move beyond neighborhood-level mapping of lead risks to provide specific information about lead at the address level.

The map uses housing age as an indicator to assess risk to lead exposure, which is an excellent place to start because it is relevant to the prevalence of both lead-based paint and lead in drinking water.

As more information is added on lead pipes, lead-contaminated soil, and nearby commercial operations that release lead, as well as details on lead poisoning prevention requirements, the map will become a critical tool in the effort to comprehensively consider lead risks and drive exposure closer to zero.

Source: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Potential Lead Exposure Mapping (click on Lead-based paint tab at the top and zoom in until you see parcel-level detail with color overlays)

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