October 1, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Last week, the U.S. EPA issued a new regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to help reduce the amount of lead contained in consumers’ tap water.  The new rule amends a 1991 EPA’s “Lead and Copper Rule” by requiring improved monitoring and replacement of lead-service lines, and providing more complete information to consumers (by water utilities) so they receive more timely and useful information about lead contamination in their drinking water.

As reported by the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, changes to EPA’s Lead and Copper rule were prompted by a

“lead crisis in the District’s [of Columbia] water supply that was first revealed early in 2004, more than two years after the utility noticed lead levels rising.  The public learned in news reports in January 2004 that its drinking water contained dangerously high, record-setting levels of lead.  It was a fact the DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) and EPA knew from extensive testing of hundreds of District homes in the previous year, but had not announced to the public.”

Confusion over the roles of EPA and the nation’s water utilities to ensure a safe drinking water supply, led to congressional hearings and additional investigations into “when” officials realized their was a problem, and “why” the public wasn’t informed.  At a March 2004 hearing, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Erik Olson (now working as General Counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee) blasted EPA officials and DC WASA for their failures to protect the public from lead in drinking water.  His testimony urged:

“The only solution to the D.C. water crisis is for EPA to initiate a full civil and criminal investigation, and to immediately issue emergency administrative orders to WASA and the Corps. The orders should mandate that they address the multitude of problems with their response to the lead crisis and other water quality problems”

Well, EPA didn’t go that far, but the congressional attention and public uproard caused the agency in July 2006 to propose changes to the “Lead and Copper rule.”  The results of that action are the final rule published by EPA on September 26.

I’ve been trying to gather opinions about the rule and have only found the following two statements:

“Marc Edwards, an environmental engineer and Virginia Tech professor, who was among the first to diagnose the city’s [District of Columbia] lead problem and warn of the flaws of EPA’s lead regulations, applauded the new rules yesterday, but said more action is needed. ‘The revisions go a long way toward addressing the deficiencies we learned about in 2004.  We have since that time learned about many problems, and it is obvious there will have to be a future set of revisions.  For example, our recent data prove that the EPA approved method of measuring lead in water, can miss much of the lead that can be present and which contributes to childhood lead poisoning.” [from Wash Post story]

Professor Marc Edwards was named a MacArthur Fellow for 2007 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (more here) and has been collaborating recently with Parents for Non-Toxic Alternatives to test drinking water in DC public schools.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) which provided written  comments to EPA on the rule, noted

The rule requires state approval before public water systems can add a new source of water or change a treatment process ― matters affecting optimized corrosion control ― prior to implementation. AWWA had opposed that provision for transferring operational decision-making and responsibility away from licensed operators to the state…  [but] AWWA leaders noted that the USEPA did follow the recommendations of AWWA and others for making public education requirements for the LCR and other rules more transparent and easier to implement.

The AWWA’s announcement about the rule also noted:

The Lead and Copper Rule clarifications rulemaking does not address all of the issues surrounding lead,  and USEPA continues to hold open the prospect of a potentially more comprehensive revision of the LCR.

But it seems only insiders to this issue can interpret whether “prospect of a potentially more comprehensive revision of the LCR” would be good or not for public health.

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