The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the first major update to its underachieving Lead and Copper Rule in nearly 30 years.
The EPA conceded that the old rule created many loopholes. Under it, only 1% of utilities actually replaced lead pipes as a result of an action level exceedance. Also of concern was that when elementary school or child care water systems exceeded limits of 15 parts per billion (ppb), up to 48 months could pass before implementing corrosion control.
The update establishes a new threshold of 10 ppb. The 10 ppb trigger level also requires systems to start lead service line replacement programs.
“For the first time in nearly 30 years, this action incorporates best practices and strengthens every aspect of the rule, including closing loopholes, accelerating the real world pace of lead service line replacement, and ensuring that lead pipes will be replaced in their entirety,” announced EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who added that the new rule will accelerate actions that reduce lead in drinking water to better protect children from lead exposure.
In a December 22 statement in support of the EPA’s changes, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) explained that the first step in removing all lead service lines in their entirety will be the development of lead inventories in every community, a move included under the new update.
Improvements under the new rule also means using science-based testing to better locate elevated levels of lead in drinking water. The old rule enabled sampling techniques that could underestimate lead. More efforts will also come to complete lead service line replacements. Under the new rule, water systems will be required to fully replace at least 3% of lead service lines each year when 10% of sampling results are above 15 ppb.
Water systems will now be required to identify and make public the locations of lead service lines, the EPA announced.
For the first time, the new rule will require testing in elementary schools and child care facilities. Also, a trigger level will be established to jump start mitigation earlier and in more communities.
AWWA CEO David LaFrance stated that his association is looking forward to reviewing the updated rule in detail and assisting its 50,000 members in “understanding and implementing it in their communities,” he said.