Stricter EPA Lead Rule Could Boost Water Pipe Replacement Demand

HOUSTON (UC) — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed updates to its lead rule for drinking water that would set a lower allowable limit and require utilities to map all service lines containing lead.

The new rule could add demand for pipeline replacement projects throughout the United States.  If lead levels are found above the stricter 10 parts per billion standard, the proposed EPA rule requires that utilities work with their state to replace the lines and evaluate their treatment processes.

When finalized, the agency said, its rule change will require more water systems to act sooner to reduce lead levels and protect public health.  It also is intended to improve transparency and communication, EPA said, and better protect children and the most at-risk communities.

The EPA announced a new website developed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide guidance on federal funding available to help pay for lead pipe replacement when required under the proposed new rule.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who announced the proposal at an event in Green Bay, said: "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."

The agency said the proposal focuses on six key areas and that "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 lead service lines 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 (e.g. trigger level outlined below).
  3. Replacing lead service lines 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 child care facilities by requiring water systems to take drinking water samples from the schools and child care facilities served by the system.

"EPA’s proposal does not change the existing action level of 15 ppb. 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," according to the agency's announcement. "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 lead service lines in the inventory when the level is detected, EPA said.

The agency said small systems that exceed the levels will have flexibility with respect to treatment and replacement actions. "This will allow smaller systems to protect public health by taking the action that makes sense for their community," EPA said, without further detail.

The EPA said it is taking public comment on this proposal via [Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0300].

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