The EPA says requirements of the 25-year-old Lead and Copper Rule are in urgent need of an upgrade.
There is no safe blood level of lead for children. While there have been major reductions in childhood lead exposure over the last few decades, the EPA says there is more to do.
The agency is considering the best way to update its Lead and Copper Rule, or LCR. The primary way that lead and copper enter drinking water is through leaching out of old lead and copper pipes. The EPA takes measures to prevent that, primarily, by requiring water treatment systems to control the corrosiveness of water. However, the rule is structured in a way that allows providers to determine how best to do that.
It’s just one of the challenges in a rule that’s been in effect since 1991. In a white paper released last week the EPA wrote “the LCR is one of the most complicated drinking water regulations for states and drinking water utilities to implement.” There are a lot of twists and turns between a water source and a consumer’s tap, a route with many steps water system managers have to account for. On top of that, what’s required of a system depends on its size and its previous work in preventing lead exposure. Additionally, in many systems, the regulation requires a change to treatment only after a public health problem is discovered.
In 2017 the EPA will propose amendments to the rule. The agency declined an interview, but said in a statement that the changes could include point-of-use filters, increases in sampling requirements, and a plan for replacing old lead service lines.
The ramifications of lead exposure persist in Pennsylvania: Nearly 2,700 children in Philadelphia had harmful blood levels of lead last year. Throughout the state, communities continue to deal with the legacy of lead.