By Kristen Hildreth
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced long-awaited proposed updates to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).
The LCR was promulgated in 1991 as a way to control lead and copper in drinking water—the efforts to reduce lead concentrations were then, and remain, health-based as, per the EPA, lead is a “toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels.”
The most vulnerable populations include pregnant women, young children and infants, as low levels of exposure are likely to “damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.
In 2016, the EPA began its process to revise the LCR, publishing a white paper outlining potential revisions, noting that “the regulation and its implementation [were] in urgent need of an overhaul.”
The white paper suggested a variety of potential revisions—strengthening public education surrounding the health effects of lead and copper, requiring proactive LSLs replacements, improving corrosion control treatment, strengthening sampling requirements, and increasing transparency and information sending.
A key question within that was how fast lead service lines (LSLs) that tested with concentrations above 15 parts per billion (ppb) should be replaced, as, according to the EPA, proactive replacement of LSLs could cost between $2,500 and $8,700 per line. This cost, shared by the water utility and the homeowner, has the potential to cost more than $80 billion nationally.
While the current proposed update does not consider all suggestions included in the white paper—notably the immediate replacement of LSLs—it does touch on many. The new proposal focuses on six key areas:
- Requires water systems to prepare and update a publicly available inventory of LSLs to aid in identifying areas with the highest lead impacts.
- Requires water systems to “find and fix” sources of lead when a sample in a home exceeds 15 ppb and notify consumers within 24 hours if a sample collected from their home is above 15ppb.
- Requires corrosion control treatment based on tap sampling results and establishing a new trigger level of 10 ppb (more information on that trigger level is below).
- Requires water systems to replace water system-owned portions of LSL if a customer replaces their portion of the line.
- Requires water systems to follow new sampling procedures and adjust sampling sites.
- Requires water systems to take drinking water samples from schools and child care facilities.
The proposal does not change the existing action level of 15 ppb but does propose a new lead trigger level of 10 ppb, which would require water systems to identify actions that would reduce levels in drinking waters. It would also require water systems above the new trigger level, but below the existing action level, to set an annual goal for conducting replacements and conduct outreach to encourage resident participation in replacement programs.
Additionally, if a water system is above the existing action level, it would be required, annually, to replace a minimum of 3% of the known or potential LSLs in the inventory at the time of which the action level was exceeded–below current regulations, which require that 7% of lead service lines be replaced. Smaller water systems will be granted flexibility in regard to treatment and LSL replacement actions.
At the same time the EPA published updates to the LCR, the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development launched a website that summarizes available federal programs that help finance, or fund, LSL replacement. The site includes case studies that demonstrate how states and cities across the nation have leveraged those federal resources. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler hopes the new website will encourage states and cities to “make full use of the many funding and financing options provided by the federal government.”
For more information on the proposed rule and how it differs from the current LCR, see the EPA’s comparison. The proposal will be open for public comment for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. For more information, contact NCSL's Kristen Hildreth.
Kristen Hildreth is a senior policy specialist with NCSL's National Resources and Infrastructure Committee.