WASHINGTON, DC – Environmental groups suing the United States Environmental Protection Agency over regulations governing lead contamination in public drinking water say a long-awaited and finalized review in the The last days of the Trump administration are offering too much time for utilities to dig up and replace lead service lines in their distribution network.
A lawsuit was filed last week in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals by Earthjustice and joined by the NAACP, United Parents Against Lead, Newburgh Clean Water Project and Sierra Club. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a separate but related complaint.
The groups are pushing the new Biden administration to change course and take action to adjust the implementation of the new rule that they say would better protect people’s health.
The focus of their concern is the three decades in which utilities must replace lead pipes, a costly task that is behind schedule in cities in Michigan and elsewhere.
The rule is one of many Trump EPA actions put on a “FreezeBy the new administration.
“Basically the EPA has included some minor adjustments to how monitoring is done and how you count if a main service line has been replaced, but that hasn’t fixed the fundamental problem that those lines of Main services are going to sit in the ground for decades in most cases, ”said Erik Olson, senior director of health and food issues at NRDC.
The EPA released its review of the lead and copper rule in December and held a press conference which included the mayor of Flint, Sheldon Neeley. The revision, in the works for years, was the first major change since the rule of origin was adopted in 1991. The rule was strongly criticized as being too lenient after the Flint crisis and prompted Michigan to tighten up. its own rules.
The EPA did not change the national action level for lead in public water, which is 15 parts per billion (ppb), but it did create a “trigger level” of 10 bpb at which utilities Audiences must optimize or add corrosion control. The overhaul also changed tap sampling procedures and criteria for selecting homes to be tested, as well as the requirement for 24-hour customer notification rather than 30 days of a high test result. It also requires routine testing in elementary schools and daycares.
Most of the overhaul focused on lead service pipes, which are lead pipes in many cities that connect water pipes to individual buildings. The rule requires utilities to update their lead utility line inventories and to “find and fix” sources of lead in homes with water greater than 15 ppb. But the EPA has extended the time frame during which water supply systems must eventually find and replace these lead lines; which, in Flint’s case, leached lead into drinking water across town because plant operators failed to properly treat raw river water with corrosion control.
Critics of the review say the extra time to replace lead pipes extends the risk of lead-contaminated drinking water to another generation of people. Democrats like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer criticized a draft of the rule last year. US Representative Dan Kildee, D-Flint, said the review “would do nothing to prevent Flint’s next water crisis from occurring in other communities across the country” when it was announced.
In Michigan, the lead rule is already stricter than the EPA’s revision. In 2018, under former Governor Rick Snyder, the state lowered the action level to 12 ppb from 2025 and asked utilities to remove all lead lines and galvanized steel lines that connect to the lead lines.
Michigan rule requires that lead pipes be replaced within 20 years and that inventories be completed by 2025. An estimated 500,000 such pipes are in the state’s water systems.
Water utilities run by the Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit pushed back on changes because they were too expensive to run, but lost in court in 2019.
The NRDC argues that the EPA should have adopted a standard at the tap used for most other contaminants regulated in drinking water called the Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL, rather than continuing the complex lead rule, which is the basis of the actions. response on the test results of a percentage of predetermined homes in a service area of the water network.
The new requirement that utilities test schools and daycares “sounds good in theory,” Olson said, but testing is only required on a small number of taps every five years.
“A school can have 20 or 30 different fountains,” Olson said. “Just testing five places in a school over a five-year period is very likely to miss out on problems and mislead staff and parents into believing that there is no problem, while in many cases there will be a problem that will not be detected. “
Olson said the “filter first” legislation, which was introduced to the Michigan legislature in 2019 but died at the end of the last session, would simply require filters on school water fountains. He said it would be cheaper than regular testing and more effective in reducing exposure.
“We are hoping that this type of legislation will be passed in Michigan and we would like it to be a national model,” he said.