EDF Health

EPA greenlights 21 states’ SRF plans to fund LSL replacement projects

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals

What’s New: EPA announced it has awarded $1.16 billion to the State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs in 21 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories to support lead service line (LSL) replacement projects. In order to secure funding, these states developed and submitted Intended Use Plans (IUPs), which included LSL replacement projects that met EPA’s requirements.

Why It Matters: These 25 programs can now begin distributing their share of the first of five years of funding from the $15 billion Congress included in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) specifically for full LSL replacement projects. The remaining states are working to get their IUPs submitted to EPA.

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EPA should ensure federal funds do not support harmful partial LSL replacements

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

Last year, the White House set a goal of eliminating lead service lines (LSLs) by 2032 and worked with Congress to enact the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—which included critical resources to help meet this goal.

Through IIJA, communities across the United States have access to federal funds to replace an estimated 9 million LSLs, which are the pipes that connect homes to water mains under the street. EDF fully supports the President’s goal and related efforts to protect public health and advance environmental justice.

EPA is off to a good start. The agency:

  • Distributed the first of five years of IIJA funds to state revolving fund (SRF) programs, including $15 billion dedicated to LSL replacement and $11.7 billion in general funding for drinking water infrastructure projects (which may also be used for LSL replacement).
  • Provided guidance to states to help ensure the funds go to “disadvantaged communities” and that the $15 billion is used for full (not partial) replacements.
  • Plans to publish the results of its drinking water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment. That report is crucial to updating the formula by which SRF funds will be allocated to states in subsequent years.

However, as states begin to administer SRF funds from the $11.7 billion in general infrastructure funding, EPA’s lack of clarity on what the funds can and cannot be used for reveals problems. Specifically, some states may allow this funding to pay for partial – as opposed to full – LSL replacements when a utility works on aging water mains that have LSLs attached to them.

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State legislation requires replacement of ¼ of the country’s lead pipes

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

With the recent passage of excellent legislation in Illinois and New Jersey, one out of every four of the nation’s lead service lines (LSLs) is on a mandatory schedule to be fully replaced, with strict limits on partial replacement in the interim. These states now join Michigan in leading the way on replacing lead pipes– made all the more important because they have some of the highest numbers of LSLs in the country.

Both the Illinois and New Jersey laws[1] were the result of extensive negotiations between stakeholders and were passed with broad bipartisan support. We applaud the bill sponsors and the advocacy organizations that made it happen.

The most significant difference between the three state policies is their deadlines for utilities to fully replace the LSLs:

  • Illinois: range of 15 years to 50 years depending on a given utility’s number of LSLs.
  • New Jersey: 10-year deadline with an option to extend to 15 years
  • Michigan: 20-year deadline.

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Finally—EPA takes steps to unify its approach to the evaluation of chemicals for cancer and non-cancer endpoints

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist, and Lariah Edwards, Ph.D., is an EDF-George Washington University Postdoctoral Fellow

A recent article in Inside EPA ($) indicated that the US EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) will begin piloting a “unified approach” to the evaluation of chemicals for cancer and non-cancer endpoints. Specifically, it appears that the program intends to develop analyses demonstrating how a unified approach could work as supplements to some of its chemical assessments. This represents a major step forward in advancing the science of chemical assessment at EPA and is responsive to recommendations the scientific community and stakeholders have been making for years.

By way of background, chemical regulatory assessments generally assume that if a chemical is a genotoxic carcinogen, there is no exposure threshold for the effect. This means that across a diverse population, some level of risk for developing cancer exists at any level of exposure. Traditionally for all other toxicity endpoints, EPA and other regulatory agencies typically have assumed that there is a bright-line exposure threshold below which no adverse health effect will be seen.

This bifurcated approach to characterizing chemical hazards and risks is not scientifically supported. The assumption that there are “safe” exposure thresholds for all non-cancer endpoints ignores real-world variability in exposure and susceptibility across the human population.  This variability influences whether any particular person or group will experience an adverse effect, and includes such factors as: co-exposures to other chemical and non-chemical stressors and differences in susceptibility that may arise from things like genetic differences or underlying health conditions.

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California water utilities fear the unknown when it comes to lead service lines

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director.

Last month, two California trade associations submitted disconcerting comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the agency considers what to do with the revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) published in the waning days of the Trump Administration. The associations – the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) and the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) – represent 90% of the state’s drinking water utilities.

The trade associations are asking EPA to allow water utilities to tell the agency, the state, their customers, and the public that they have no lead service lines (LSLs) even when they know it may well be false. This would seriously undermine one of the most important positive aspects of the revised LCR – the service line inventory. California’s unusual definition of a “user service line” has been a long-running problem: it does not include the portion of the service line on private property. This definition is narrower than the federal one – and even the state’s definition of an LSL that has been in place for more than a quarter century.

Under EPA’s revised LCR, utilities can only claim that they have no LSLs – and thus avoid the need to comply with the rule’s more protective sampling and corrosion control requirements for systems with LSLs – if they are confident there are no LSLs based the entire length of the service line, including the portion on private property. The two state trade associations are asking EPA to put the burden of determining the composition of this portion of the service line entirely on the customer, allowing a utility to ignore a lead pipe if the customer does not provide the information. This approach will render the inventory effectively useless and misleading.

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Michigan embraces predictive tools to develop a lead service line inventory

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) released ground breaking guidance to help utilities in the state develop their “Complete Distribution System Materials Inventory” (CDSMI) that is due in 2025. The guidance is important because it explicitly allows utilities to use predictive tools to prepare an accurate materials inventory that is essential to effective lead service line (LSL) replacement efforts. Because the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) service line inventory in its revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) has many elements in common with Michigan’s inventory, we encourage EPA and other states to look closely at Michigan’s guidance as a model to help all utilities develop accurate service line inventories.

Michigan’s inventory requirement and guidance

Michigan’s version of the LCR requires utilities to fully replace all LSLs – the portion on both public and private property – at an average rate of 5% per year by 2040.[1] The key to compliance is an accurate CDSMI that must be submitted to EGLE and made public by January 1, 2025.

EGLE states that the CDSMI’s purpose “is to characterize, record, and maintain a comprehensive inventory of distribution system materials, including service line materials on both public and private property.” It supports effective asset management planning, LSL replacement efforts, and notification of those served by an LSL.

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