Proposal Strengthening Lead Pipe Rule a Win for Environmental Justice, Science Group Says

Published Nov 30, 2023

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Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposal to strengthen rules governing lead pipes. It's estimated that there are up to 10 million lead pipes across the country, which are often concentrated in communities that are predominately Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC).

The changes to the Lead and Copper Rule would require the replacement of lead pipes in public water systems within 10 years. The proposal includes a requirement for water systems to maintain an updated public inventory of where lead pipes are located and publicly share plans for replacing them. The proposal would also strengthen water sampling practices, making it easier to identify lead in drinking water, and lower the level of lead that requires public notification and corrective actions from 15 micrograms per liter to 10 micrograms per liter. Water systems that repeatedly exceed allowable limits would be required to provide water filters to impacted residents. Critically, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $50 billion to support water system upgrades, including $15 billion specifically to help offset the cost of replacing lead water service lines.

“This is a long overdue step toward remedying decades of exposure to lead, especially among communities already overburdened by cumulative environmental stressors,” said Darya Minovi, senior analyst for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “There is no safe level of lead in drinking water and the negative impacts on child development have been life-altering and devastating for too many. While the 10 micrograms per liter limit is a start, it does not totally eliminate the risk of exposure. The science on lead is clear and EPA needs to work swiftly to eradicate this unnecessary public health harm among those most impacted.”

“The toxic legacy of lead water lines has impacted people across the country for far too long, from Flint to Newark to New Orleans, Chicago, and beyond. This is a huge step in the right direction for public health and environmental justice, and it reflects years of hard work and advocacy by so many people,” said Dr. Stacy Woods, research director in the Food and Environment program at UCS who served as an expert witness in Flint, MI, and Newark, NJ, and has worked extensively for lead pipe removal in her previous role with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Under the current rule, water systems have dragged their feet in finding and replacing lead pipes, so many people don’t know whether lead is leaching into the water that comes out of their taps. We need to be intentional and strategic in implementing these proposed updates. Water systems should take a data-driven approach to identifying the areas at highest risk for lead pipes – so often, low-income communities and communities of color - and prioritizing remediation. We also need to ensure that the people who have been most affected by lead are not asked to bear the costs of replacing their lead pipes or avoiding lead exposure, including providing free or low-cost water filters for homes that have lead pipes.”