Since 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead and copper rule has governed our nation’s efforts to reduce lead in drinking water. This rule has often been criticized as overly complicated, under-enforced, and insufficiently strong to protect Americans’ health. However, as of just recently, the federal government provided a revised 409-page version of the lead and copper rule that provides new protections and closes previously available loopholes.
Under the new revisions, water utilities are required to test for lead at schools and child-care facilities every five years, and must do the same at secondary schools upon request. In addition, the EPA will require water systems to create and make publicly available an inventory of lead service lines. Utilities will now also have to notify homeowners within three days if they find any increase in lead levels.
One of the loopholes under the previous lead and copper rule was that certain communities could avoid reporting unfavorable results by removing aerators from faucets or by providing residents with small-necked bottles for testing. However, as utilities are now required to let four liters of water flow from a faucet before testing, this should no longer be a problem.
What Still Needs Improvement
Notably absent from the revised lead and copper rule is any discussion of the 6 million-plus lead service lines currently underground throughout the nation. While the revision is certainly a step in the right direction, Erik Olson, strategic director for health at the Natural Resources Defense Council considers the lack of attention to the millions of lead service lines “a bitter disappointment.” To Mr. Olson, “The fundamental problem is we’re going to leave millions of lead service lines in the ground for decades, and that’s going to mean generations of kids’ health will suffer.”