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EPA proposes sweeping changes to Nation’s drinking water regulations to reduce lead poisoning . . .

This week, EPA proposed long-awaited changes to the Nation’s lead and copper rule that no doubt will result in a healthier national population – focusing first on the most vulnerable communities and children – and will help to avoid future water crisis such as Flint, Michigan.  The proposal takes a multi-pronged approach to address a host of complex issues, notably including closing sampling “loopholes” that allowed many systems for years to conceal water quality problems.  The six areas the rule address:

1. Identifying areas most impacted. To help identify areas most in need of remediation, the EPA is proposing that all water systems complete and maintain a lead service line (LSL) inventory and collect tap samples from homes with LSLs if present in the distribution system. To reduce elevated levels of lead in certain locations, the EPA proposes to require water systems to “find-and-fix” the causes of these elevated levels (see Section III.K. of this notice).

2. Strengthening treatment requirements. The EPA is proposing to revise requirements for corrosion control treatment (CCT) based on the tap sampling results. The EPA’s proposal also establishes a new trigger level of 10 µg/L. At this trigger level, systems that currently treat for corrosion would be required to re-optimize their existing treatment. Systems that do not currently treat for corrosion would be required to conduct a corrosion control study.

3. Replacing Lead Service Lines. The EPA is proposing to require water systems to replace the water system-owned portion of an LSL when a customer chooses to replace their customer-owned portion of the line. The EPA is also proposing to require water systems to initiate full lead service line replacement programs where tap sampling shows that lead levels in tap water exceed the existing action level and the proposed trigger level. The proposal requires systems that are above the trigger level but at or below the lead action level to set an annual goal for conducting replacements and for systems that are above the action level to annually replace a minimum of three percent of the number of known or potential LSLs in the inventory at the time the action level exceedance occurs. The proposal also prevents systems from avoiding LSLR by “testing out” with an LSL sample as is allowed in the current LCR.

4. Increasing sampling reliability. The EPA is proposing to prohibit tap sampling instructions that call for pre-stagnation flushing, the cleaning or removing of faucet aerators, and a requirement that tap samples be collected in bottles with a wide-mouth configuration. The EPA is also changing the criteria for selecting homes with LSLs when collecting tap samples. For example, the EPA is proposing tap sample site selection focus on sites with LSLs rather than copper pipe with lead solder.

5. Improving risk communication. The EPA is proposing to require systems to notify customers of an action level exceedance within 24 hours. It also requires systems to conduct regular outreach to the homeowners with LSLs. The EPA is also proposing to require that the LSL inventory, which would include location identifiers, be made
publicly available.

6. Protecting Children in Schools. Since children risk the most significant harm from lead exposure, the EPA is proposing that community water systems (CWS) sample drinking water outlets at each school and each child care facility served by the system. The system would be required to provide the results to the school or child
care facility and to provide information about the actions the school or child care facility can take to reduce lead in drinking water.

A pre-publication version is available here.  The public will have 60 days to comment once the rule is published in the Federal Register.

Brent Fewell

Brent Fewell