EDF Health

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.

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EPA’s new service line inventory: The good, the bad, and the absurd

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

This is the first 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) the 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. 

The backbone of the revised LCR is a new service line inventory[1] that all public water systems, whether large or small, rural or urban, must develop by January 2024 unless they can demonstrate that they have no LSLs. If properly designed and implemented, the inventory should transform how utilities, communities and states approach LSLs by moving from rough estimates to a data-driven approach that allows water systems to identify what is known and not known about the service lines, communicate that information to the public, and establish LSL replacement priorities.

Unfortunately, EPA has included an unfortunate and absurd new detail in the inventory that requires systems to categorize service lines that contain a two-foot piece of lead pipe, often known as a gooseneck, as “Non-lead.” We anticipate that the absurdity of calling a lead pipe “Non-lead” will undermine the inventory’s credibility and effectiveness.

What is the new service line inventory and how is it used?

By January 2024, water systems must submit a service line inventory to the state and make it publicly accessible pursuant to 40 CFR § 141.84(a). To develop the inventory, they must assign all service lines, regardless of ownership, for the portions on public or private property to one of four categories:

  1. Lead: where a portion of the service line is made of lead (excluding lead connectors, such as goosenecks, as explained below). We presume this includes lead-lined pipe.
  2. Galvanized Requiring Replacement: where a portion of the service line is galvanized iron or steel.[2] If the system can determine that the galvanized pipe was never downstream of an LSL (or lead connector, such as a gooseneck[3]), then it is essentially a galvanized pipe not requiring replacement and can be categorized as “Non-lead.”
  3. Non-lead: where the line is determined not to be “Lead” or “Galvanized Requiring Replacement” (see discussion below for lead connectors). Our understanding is that systems could assume service lines installed after the 1986 federal ban on lead pipe are “Non-Lead.”
  4. Lead Status Unknown: where it has not been determined if the service line met the SDWA Section 1417 definition of “Lead-free” at 42 U.S.C. § 300g-6. We presume this means that solder or flux must be less than 0.2% lead and other wetted surfaces must be less than 8% from 1986 to 2013 and less than 0.25% for 2014 to present.[4]

Under these requirements, a service line is classified as an LSL if it is in the “Lead” or “Galvanized Requiring Replacement” categories.[5]

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Clear communication about lead service line ownership is difficult – but here’s why it really matters

Sam Lovell, Project Manager.

Any successful initiative to replace lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes connecting the water main under the street to homes – must be built on clear and consistent communications to residents. This will not only accelerate LSL replacement progress and equip people with information that impacts their health – it will also help build trust.

Many residents likely don’t even know what an LSL is, let alone that they need to take proactive steps if they want it fully replaced. In most communities, ownership of the water service line is split between the drinking water utility and the resident. Fully replacing an LSL entails removing the portions of lead pipe both on public and on private property. A partial replacement (when only one of the sides of an LSL is removed – see image below) is an issue because it can spike lead levels in the short-term and does not have the long-term benefit of reduced lead exposure seen with a full LSL replacement.

When describing LSLs and the replacement process, water systems must explain whether they are referring to the full LSL or only one of the sides, and the implications of this for the resident.

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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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ASDWA provides new recommendations to states and utilities for lead service line inventories

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) released a new white paper to help states and utilities develop more useful inventories of lead service lines (LSLs). The paper builds on guidance the organization issued in August 2019. ASDWA partnered with BlueConduit to leverage that firm’s experience developing a statistical model for Flint, Michigan that accurately predicted which service lines were made of lead, galvanized steel, plastic or copper.

The guidance is timely as EPA prepares to finalize its Lead and Copper Rule revisions. We anticipate those revisions will require utilities to develop – and make public – inventories that identify the location of each service line made of lead or when the material is unknown and may be lead. Utilities would also be required to notify customers annually if they have a lead or unknown service line. Customers who buy a home and open a new water account would also be notified in the first bill.

The ASDWA/BlueConduit white paper encourages utilities to use five principles to best characterize the uncertainty in their inventories:

  1. Ensuring clean data management and organization;
  2. Not accepting all historical records as truth;
  3. Conducting a representative randomized sample of unverified service lines;
  4. Being transparent in public outreach and reproducibility; and
  5. Demonstrating accuracy on “hold-out sample.”

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Revised national standard tightens lead leaching limits for new drinking water fixtures

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

In September 2020, the joint committee posted an announcement on its revised NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard.

Effective today, the national consensus standard for plumbing devices, known as NSF/ANSI/CAN 61, was revised to require, by January 1, 2024, that manufacturers of faucets and fountains that dispense drinking water meet limits five times more protective for lead leaching than the current standard. Manufacturers have the option to have their products tested and certified to the revised standard beginning in the fall, after it is published. All states require plumbing devices comply NSF/ANSI/CAN 61.

Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI), the trade association for the industry, tells us that its members are already gearing up to get their products certified, but that it will take time to complete the third-party review process and meet the expected demand. Consumers, retailers, and institutional buyers should begin requesting products that meet the new standard – which can be identified by the new “NSF/ANSI/CAN 61: Q ≤ 1”[1] text on the consumer-facing product label – in 2021 as the certification process ramps up.

A driving force for this change was legislation introduced by California Assembly Member Chris Holden, cosponsored by EDF and Environmental Working Group, with productive and collaborative engagement from PMI and NSF International.[2] On June 8, the Assembly unanimously passed AB 2060. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. The current version of the bill would require that all devices made or sold in California that are intended to convey or dispense drinking water meet the new NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard on a faster timeline – by January 1, 2021. PMI has requested an effective date of January 1, 2024 for the California requirement to provide manufacturers, third party certifiers, distributors, and retailers with adequate time to get products certified and in stock in the state. Stakeholders are considering the request but are concerned that child care facilities and schools will need the devices sooner. Because of the legislation, we expect that manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers will prioritize the California market.

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