EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead Exposure

Lead service lines must be replaced as soon as possible to protect children

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

Two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked me to serve on its new multi-stakeholder workgroup to develop recommendations to improve the agency’s 1991 lead in drinking water rule. I had heard about problems with the rule but was unfamiliar with the details. My efforts to prevent lead poisoning over the past 20 years at the federal, state, and local levels focused on lead-based paint and consumer products. Lead pipes were new to me. Knowing the dangers of any lead exposure all too well, I was happy to help.

What I learned was disturbing. The rule’s shortcomings became clear when a utility representative presented a chart showing the lead levels from homeowner sampling over the years. While few in number, some lead levels in the water were literally off the scale, in the hundreds of parts per billion (ppb). And yet a utility operating a public water system would be in compliance with the rule as long as less than 90 in 100 samples were below 15 ppb. The only required action would be an alert by the utility to the homeowner. It became clear to me that lead could be found in water at extremely high levels, but these spikes—and potentially substantial public health risk—may not be investigated and corrected.

EPA’s own studies confirmed the problem. It turns out that the highest lead levels were often missed because the sampling method focused on the water in the interior plumbing and not the water sitting overnight in the lead service line – the pipe that connects the main in the street to the house. In addition, only 50 or 100 samples every three years were required; too few taken too infrequently to identify problems in a large city in a timely manner. Read More »

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