Long-Awaited Revisions to EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule Announced

Yesterday, EPA announced the first significant updates to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) in roughly 28 years. Administrator Wheeler announced and signed the proposed regulation in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Acknowledging the amount of time since the LCR was first implemented, he stated that “we can’t get stuck in the 90’s.” And, the rule will ensure that “all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water.” 

According to EPA, the new regulations will require water systems to act sooner to reduce lead levels, improve transparency and communication with the public, and better protect children in the most at-risk and underserved communities. The proposed rule includes a “suite of actions” that will identify and address the areas most impacted by drinking water contamination. This includes proposing to require that all water systems complete and maintain a lead service line inventory, which will include collecting tap samples at homes with lead service lines, strengthening water treatment requirements, require replacement of lead service lines, increase sampling reliability, and protect children in schools.  

While the lead Action Level remains unchanged at 15 µg/L, additional actions (up to and including full lead service line replacement) would be required of systems with test results above the Action Level, and a new “Trigger Level” of 10 µg/L would require systems to initiate planning, monitoring, and treatment actions. EPA would also require water systems to replace the system-owned portions of a lead service line when a customer chooses to replace the customer-owned portion of the same line. 

On its face, the LCR may seem like a natural response to the drinking water crisis that exposed thousands of children to lead contamination through lead service lines in Flint, Michigan, and more recently in Newark, New Jersey, and elsewhere. However, EPA has been working on revising the rule since 2005. To say replacing the drinking water service lines is complicated is an understatement. It has been estimated that over 10 million leaded and corroded water pipes are still in use today. It will be a costly undertaking to replace leaded service lines, estimated at $700 billion or more, a major factor influencing the process of revising the regulations. Both EPA and HUD are encouraging communities to take advantage of several federal funding programs that will be available to subsidize community efforts to replace these lines. The agencies have launched a new website on lead service line financing opportunities, available at: www.epa.gov/safewater/pipereplacement.

EPA expects to have the LCR finalized by Summer 2020.

*Susan Bernard also contributed to this article and is a senior specialist in Wiley Rein's Environment & Product Regulation Practice.

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