EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead in Drinking Water

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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Lead pipes are in the news – Here’s why that matters

Sam Lovell, Communications Manager. 

“How many of you know, when you send your child to school, the fountain they’re drinking out of is not fed by a lead pipe?”

That stark question was posed by President Biden in a briefing following the announcement of the American Jobs Plan. The President’s historic infrastructure package includes $45 billion to fully replace lead pipes across the country. This has caused a surge of attention nationally on the problem of lead pipes, as administration officials and members of Congress voice support of the plan and local media outlets report on the implications of the investment.

And this attention is well-placed: across the country, an estimated 9.2 million lead service lines still provide water to US homes – putting children at risk of lead exposure and permanent harm to their brain development. While this has been an issue for far too long, this recent momentum – with the inclusion of funding in the American Jobs Plan and in several bills moving in both the House of Representatives and the Senate – is a promising sign that action is near.

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An issue nearly everyone agrees on: It’s time to fund lead pipe replacement

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director, and Sam Lovell, Project Manager.

As Congress looks to various infrastructure priorities in the coming months to get the country back on track, funding replacement of lead pipes should be an essential part of that effort. Recent polling from Black Millennials for Flint, BlueGreen Alliance and EDF demonstrates that there is strong bipartisan support for this initiative across party lines and regions of the country. Funding lead pipe replacement will protect health, create jobs, permanently improve water infrastructure, and reduce health inequities. It’s time for action.

And we are already seeing movement on this important issue, with legislation in the first few months of the new Congress in both the US House and Senate including lead pipe replacement as a key infrastructure priority.

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Spotlighting advocates for environmental justice: LaTricea Adams with Black Millennials for Flint

LaTricea Adams credits her background as an educator with motivating and shaping her community advocacy work. For five years, Adams taught Spanish to middle and high school students in Nashville, Tennessee.

Now, she’s the Founder Chief Executive Officer and President of Black Millennials for Flint (BM4F) – a grassroots, environmental justice and civil rights organization with the purpose of bringing like-minded organizations together to collectively take action and advocate against the crisis of lead exposure specifically in African American and Latino communities throughout the nation.

Last month, we sat down (virtually) with Adams to learn about her experience advocating for environmental justice.

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A closer look at the environmental justice implications of EPA’s proposed lead in water rule

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager, and Sam Lovell, Project Manager.

See all blogs in our LCR series.

Household-level changes that depend on ability-to-pay will leave low-income households with disproportionately higher health risks.

 

EPA Environmental Justice Analysis of the proposed rule.

Reviewing a rulemaking docket can be intimidating, especially for a major rule like the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which includes 853 supporting documents and tens of thousands of pages. Though we cannot claim to have read all of the documents, we did a targeted scan of key materials, knowing that they often yield insights and results that are lost in the summary that appears in the Federal Register. 

The effort for us paid off when we read EPA’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Analysis of the LCR proposal revisions (the Proposal), commissioned in response to Executive Order 12898. The Order directs agencies to identify and address, “as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations” in rulemaking. The agency’s contractor essentially found:

  • The current LCR disproportionately impacts low-income and minority populations as they are more likely to live in older housing that has lead service lines (LSLs), the most significant source of lead in drinking water.
  • The Proposal’s corrosion control requirements should help reduce current disparities. Because water treatment is consistent across an entire community, stronger requirements that reduce the ability of lead to leach into water from LSLs, leaded solder, and other sources should mitigate, but not eliminate, the disproportionate burden in homes with LSLs.
  • The Proposal may make disparities worse if it depends on individual household’s ability to pay for LSL replacement (LSLR). The report stated that “Household-level changes that depend on ability-to-pay will leave low-income households with disproportionately higher health risks.”[1]

In the Federal Register notice, EPA glossed over the third point and concluded that the Proposal is “not expected to have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations and low-income populations.”[2] The agency ignores the fact that the Proposal makes no change to the current LCR provisions that rely on a household’s ability to pay when it says water systems are “not required to bear the cost of removal of the portion of the [LSL] it does not own.”[3] We are aware of only a small – but growing – number of communities that have funding options to assist households with the cost of LSLR on private property.

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Promising proposal for addressing lead in schools and licensed child care – but gaps remain

Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager, and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director 

See all blogs in our LCR series.

Update: On February 5, 2020, we submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its proposal. 

Through its proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA made the unprecedented move of proposing to require community water systems (CWSs) to test for lead in water at all schools and licensed child care facilities constructed prior to 2014. The current rule only requires testing if the facility is itself a regulated water system (e.g., uses own private well). While EDF fully supports testing in these facilities, we are concerned that EPA has overlooked several major issues, especially in the child care context.

Based on our experience – including a pilot project to test and remediate lead in 11 child care facilities, a training program for child care providers in Illinois, and monitoring of state child care testing requirements across the country – we believe that addressing lead in child care facilities is an important opportunity to improve public health. Though schools are also critical, we’ve focused on child care facilities as they present a major gap due to a number of reasons. First, children under the age of six are more susceptible to the harmful effects of lead – and those at the highest risk are infants who are fed formula reconstituted with tap water. Second, child care, especially home-based facilities, are often smaller operations than schools, and therefore more likely to have a lead service line. Finally, child care facilities often lack robust facility support and public accountability that schools may have.

From our background on this issue, we have identified three key flaws with EPA’s proposal. Specifically, it:

  1. Ignores lead service lines,
  2. Relies on inadequate sampling, and
  3. Does not provide sufficient support for remediation.

We also are concerned that the result of this proposed rule may sound like “one hand clapping.” If state licensing agencies and local health departments are not requiring or promoting testing, child care facilities are unlikely to cooperate, making it more difficult for CWSs to comply with the requirement. For this requirement to have greatest effect, CWSs need the support and participation of all parties involved.

This blog will provide an overview of EPA’s proposed requirement and an analysis of each of the key issues. Read More »

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