EPA Announces Another Step in Effort to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on July 29 a final rule to reduce lead in plumbing materials used in public water systems, homes, schools, and other facilities.

The Lead-Free final rule significantly limits the lead content allowed in plumbing materials (e.g., pipes, fittings, and fixtures) used in new construction and replacement of existing plumbing.

Specifically, the rule reduces the percentage of lead content allowed in these materials from 8% to 0.25% in accordance with the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act. The final rule also requires manufacturers or importers certify their products meet the requirements using a consistent verification process.

Residential household water well systems are not affected by the rule.

The goal for the rule is to reduce lead in drinking water and assure states, manufacturers, inspectors, and consumers have a common understanding of lead-free plumbing, while also protecting public health—especially children’s health—from the risks associated with lead exposure.

“The Trump Administration is committed to providing clean and safe drinking water for all Americans,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “The Lead-Free rule is a critical step in EPA’s efforts to substantially improve children’s health and further the agency’s action plan goal of reducing children’s exposure to lead sources.”

The EPA also announced it sent the final Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) to the Office of Management and Budget, marking the first major update to the LCR in nearly three decades.

The EPA issued a proposal to the current LCR on October 10, 2019 covering testing, treatment, replacing lead service lines, and telling the public about the levels and risks of lead in drinking water.

NGWA commented on the proposed rule in February 2020 by:

  • Identifying required reporting, complex evaluations, and technical actions may be beyond the capability of many small water systems and requested the EPA examine ways to simplify these requirements and streamline small system participation in protecting their customers.
  • Noting all systems are required to have an inventory of lead service lines, a replacement schedule, a pitcher filter program, and a funding strategy, and many small water systems will need technical and financial assistance including drinking water loan forgiveness to be able to afford lead service line replacement and pitcher filters. NGWA asked the EPA and states to carefully evaluate the income levels of small communities required to meet these requirements and prequalify them for loan forgiveness.
  • Highlighting that the prescription for education and outreach relative to different requirements may be beyond small communities’ technical and educational expertise and asked the EPA and states provide materials for these communities and any training necessary to deliver the materials to customers.

The Lead-Free final rule will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and the certification requirement must be implemented within three years.

More about the final “Use of Lead-Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder, and Flux for Drinking Water” rule at the EPA website.