EDF Health

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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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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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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Also posted in Drinking Water, lead / Tagged | Comments are closed

FDA takes an important step by phasing out paper greaseproofing agents containing a specific PFAS

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the phase-out of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) used to greaseproof paper and paperboard food packaging made from a specific type of short-chain PFAS known as 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol (6:2 FTOH).  The action, narrow as it is, is welcome news for efforts to protect public health and the environment from the risks posed by short chain PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade.

FDA secured voluntary agreements with three companies, Archroma, Asahi Glass, and Daikin, to phase-out products based on 6:2 FTOH. A fourth company, Chemours, asked FDA to suspend the agency’s approvals on its products containing the PFAS one year ago. The action affects 15 food contact substance notifications (FCN) approved by the agency between 2006 and 2016. It does not address 13 FCNs for similar greaseproofing uses made from PFAS other than 6:2 FTOH. And, under the agreement, consumers may still find 6:2 FTOH-laden, carry-out containers until June 2025.

The process FDA took, and the time it took to get there, reveals the significant difficulties the agency has in reversing past actions in the face of mounting evidence of a chemical’s risk:

  • FDA must seek out information because companies have no obligation to affirmatively notify the agency of new studies showing potential problems;
  • When FDA finds the information and identifies potential safety concerns, it appears to act as if it has the burden of proving the use is no longer safe; and
  • FDA continued approving uses of 6:2 FTOH even after it identified problematic data gaps.

These difficulties reinforce the need for actions being taken by states such as Washington, Maine, New York, and California, by Congress, and by retailers to reduce uses of PFAS in their products. When it comes to food packaging, PFAS are dinosaurs and their time is running out.

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