EPA Proposes Updates to Lead and Copper Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on October 10 a proposed rule that improves the actions that water systems must take to reduce lead in the nation’s drinking water. This action represents the first major overhaul of the Lead and Copper Rule since 1991 and marks a critical step in advancing the Trump Administration’s Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures.

In conjunction with the announcement, the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have launched a new website that summarizes available federal programs that help finance or fund lead service line (LSL) replacement. The new resource also includes case studies demonstrating how cities and states have successfully leveraged federal resources to support LSL replacement projects.

The agency’s proposal takes a proactive and holistic approach to improving the current rule — from testing to treatment to telling the public about the levels and risks of lead in drinking water. When finalized, this proposal will:

  • Require more water systems to act sooner to reduce lead levels and protect public health
  • Improve transparency and communication
  • Better protect children and the most at-risk communities.

The proposal focuses on six key areas. Under the proposal, a community water system would be required to take new actions, including, but not limited to:

  1. Identifying the most impacted areas by requiring water systems to prepare and update a publicly available inventory of LSLs and requiring water systems to “find-and-fix” sources of lead when a sample in a home exceeds 15 parts per billion (ppb)
  2. Strengthening drinking water treatment by requiring corrosion-control treatment based on tap sampling results and establishing a new trigger level of 10 ppb (trigger level outlined below)
  3. Replacing LSLs by requiring water systems to replace the water system-owned portion of an LSL when a customer chooses to replace their portion of the line; additionally, depending on their level above the trigger level, systems would be required take LSL replacement actions, as described below
  4. Increasing drinking water sampling reliability by requiring water systems to follow new, improved sampling procedures and adjust sampling sites to better target locations with higher lead levels
  5. Improving risk communication to customers by requiring water systems to notify customers within 24 hours if a sample collected in their home is above 15 ppb; water systems will also be required to conduct regular outreach to the homeowners with LSLs
  6. Better protecting children in schools and childcare facilities by requiring water systems to take drinking water samples from the schools and childcare facilities served by the system.

The EPA’s proposal does not change the existing action level of 15 ppb. The EPA is proposing for the first time a new lead trigger level of 10 ppb, which would compel water systems to identify actions that would reduce lead levels in drinking water.

The EPA’s new 10 ppb trigger level will enable systems to react more quickly should they exceed the 15 ppb action level in the future. These actions could include reevaluating current treatment or conducting a corrosion control study. Systems above 10 ppb but below 15 ppb would be required to set an annual goal for conducting replacements and conduct outreach to encourage resident participation in replacement programs. Water systems above 15 ppb would be required to annually replace a minimum of three percent of the number of known or potential LSLs in the inventory at the time the action level exceedance occurs.

Additionally, small systems that exceed the trigger and action levels will have flexibility with respect to treatment and LSL replacement actions.

The EPA is taking public comment on this proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register via http://www.regulations.gov [Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0300].