EDF Health

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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Also posted in Civil rights, Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, lead, States / Tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed

Unleaded Juice: FDA’s challenge of continuous improvement and compliance assurance

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals

This is the sixth in our Unleaded Juice blog series exploring how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets limits for toxic elements like lead, arsenic, and cadmium in food and the implications for the agency’s Closer To Zero program. 

A core tenet of FDA’s Closer to Zero program is the “Cycle of Continuous Improvement” represented by the image below on the program’s webpage. The four-stage, outer ring represents FDA’s process for revising its action levels for food contaminants. The inner, grey ring describes the agency’s on-going monitoring, research, and compliance program.


This approach makes sense, and we fully support it. However, the success of this approach relies on FDA addressing several significant structural weaknesses.

  • Future funding is not guaranteed: In March 2022, Congress appropriated $11 million in Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) funding for FDA’s maternal and infant health work—in part to support the agency’s efforts to reduce arsenic, lead, and cadmium in children’s foods. Last year’s request and appropriations were a significant increase over previous years, but that funding level is not guaranteed for future years.
  • Action levels are guidance—not legally binding requirements: FDA’s action levels for contaminants in food are established in guidance. The guidance introduction makes it clear that “The contents of this document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way, unless specifically incorporated into a contract.” It assumes that the food industry—from the largest multinational corporation to the smallest entrepreneur—will comply.
  • The agency has limited means to monitor compliance: FDA largely relies on physical inspections and market sampling, supplemented by voluntary reporting, to assure compliance with action levels. Inspections at high-risk facilities must occur every three years (but likely have been delayed due to the COVID pandemic). We understand that most facilities will see an inspector once every eight years. This is particularly problematic because FDA says it lacks the authority to require food companies to provide requested documents without the physical inspection, and the agency does not require ongoing testing and reporting by companies for action levels.
  • Action levels must be consistently strong enough to drive research and impact markets: FDA correctly points to its success in setting an action level for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal as a model to lower contamination. Unfortunately, the model assumes the action level for a contaminant is set low enough to result in research investments and increased product and ingredient testing and to provide FDA with sufficient information to act on problems. This is not the case for lead in juice.
     
    We explore each of these weaknesses below.

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Successful Denver Water Lead Reduction Program seeks 12-Year extension

Roya Alkafaji, Manager, Healthy Communities and Lindsay McCormick, Senior Manager, Safer Chemicals

Denver Water has one of the most successful lead service line (LSL) replacement programs in the country. Since it began the program in 2020, the utility has replaced nearly 14,000 LSLs—prioritizing lines to buildings serving vulnerable populations, such as child-care facilities. Denver Water has also distributed over 102,000 filters to local residents. EPA should continue to support their innovative approach.

Watch this video to learn more about Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program.

In 2019, we blogged about a novel program that Denver Water designed to address the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 LSLs in its system. These lead pipes connect buildings to water mains under the street.  At the time, the water utility proposed to fully replace all LSLs in their entirety within 15 years under its Lead Reduction Program.

The utility decided to fund the work through water rates and bonds, hydropower production, and other sources. In addition, they proposed to provide filters to residents until six months after replacement of the LSL.

Critically, the program includes a comprehensive effort to engage local partners to reach all members of the community. For example, Denver Water partnered with CREA Results, a local community-based organization that is helping to engage and educate Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities on the risks of lead in drinking water and to ensure that residents understand the steps involved with LSL replacement in their neighborhoods. Denver Water’s program has emerged as a national model and its success is recognized by the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative and EPA (including its recent service line inventory guidance).

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Workers are people too; EPA should treat them that way

EPA’s proposed TSCA rule to limit risks from chrysotile asbestos uses a higher “acceptable” cancer risk for workers than the rest of the population

Maria Doa, Ph.D., Senior Director, Chemicals Policy

When it comes to drawing the line on cancer risks, should workers be treated differently than the general population? Of course not. Unfortunately, EPA’s recently proposed rule to manage risks from chrysotile asbestos does just that, using one level of acceptable risk for workers and another – more protective threshold – for everyone else.

EPA says it uses a range for determining acceptable cancer risks under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the country’s main chemical safety law. The range spans a risk (or the chance that a person will develop cancer) of less than one in 10,000 to a risk of less than one in one million. EPA says this is consistent with the cancer benchmark used by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

However, EPA’s proposed TSCA rule for asbestos does not actually use a range and it is not supported by TSCA. EPA instead applies a risk level to workers 100 times less protective than for everyone else! Read More »

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Companies are not withdrawing PFAS exemptions on their own; EPA should

Samantha Liskow, Lead Counsel, Healthy Communities; and Lauren Ellis, Research Analyst, Environmental Health

EPA has committed to address the urgent issues presented by PFAS, a harmful class of human-made chemicals that are used widely in everyday products. Last July, as part of this effort, EPA called on companies to voluntarily withdraw some 600 PFAS that were previously allowed onto the market through a fast-track exemption process known as a “low volume exemption” (LVE).

Nearly a year later, however, less than 3% of these low volume per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been pulled from the market. That means manufacturers in the U.S. could still be making PFAS that never went through a full safety review – possibly millions of pounds each year. Read More »

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The many ways the American Chemistry Council wants to turn back time on TSCA implementation – Part 2

Part 2 of a 2-part series: Unrestricted approvals of new chemicals, with low fees 

Maria Doa, Ph.D., Senior Director, Chemicals Policy

In its recently issued ‘State of TSCA’ report, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) tries to turn back the clock on how EPA assesses and mitigates the risks of toxic chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and in the process leave workers, frontline communities and other vulnerable individuals at risk.  

In my previous blog, I looked at how ACC’s proposals would restrict the EPA’s ability to assess chemical risks and the science behind it. In this second and final part of our blog series looking at the chemical industry trade group’s report, I discuss ACC’s plan to dictate how EPA should assess the safety of new chemicals industry hopes to bring to the marketplace, as well as its effort to let industry avoid paying its fair share of the cost for EPA to evaluate chemical risks.  Read More »

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