EPA Briefing on Drinking Water Announcement
November 30, 2023
When they took office, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made a commitment to replace all lead pipes in the country. Yesterday, the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put that commitment into action, releasing proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements to protect our communities and improve our nation’s water infrastructure. We are thrilled to see these proposed revisions taking critical steps to ensure all people living in America have safe, clean water.
An estimated 10 million homes in the United States receive water through poisonous lead pipes, along with 400,000 schools and child-care centers. Children are among the most vulnerable to lead poisoning, especially those in low-income communities and communities of color. Black children are twice as likely as their white counterparts, and children in poor households are three times more likely to have elevated blood lead levels. These proposed revisions reflect the critical importance of seizing opportunities to modernize the nation’s infrastructure so that all people can thrive.
“We applaud EPA Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox and the Office of Water for working to address these disparities and protect families all across the country from ongoing lead exposure,” said Michael McAfee, CEO of PolicyLink. “A thriving democracy uses the full extent of the law to ensure basic human rights, such as access to clean water, are met now and for future generations.”
These revisions would simultaneously reduce current risk while also proactively mitigating future harm. Specifically, these changes would accelerate replacement while more immediately reducing risk of exposure by:
- Requiring full replacement of lead service lines, thereby banning the status quo practice of partial service line replacement, which often leads to increased risk of lead exposure;
- Mandating water systems to replace 10% of lead pipes each year for ten years, with requirements for additional removal by systems where possible;
- Building a collective understanding of lead exposure through water, by requiring systems to update inventories on an annual basis, create lead service line replacement plans, and identify/verify all materials in unknown areas;
- Lowering the lead action level to 10 µg/L, so that systems take action sooner; and
- Requiring systems with multiple exceedances to conduct active outreach and provide lead reducing filters.
“Together, these provisions will safeguard water quality and lives across the country. The benefits greatly outweigh the costs,” McAfee added, “And the estimated 200,000 jobs created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $15 billion provision toward lead service line replacement are jobs that can help close existing racial wealth gaps. It’s a win-win.”
Ensuring that every person has access to clean, affordable water.
EPA’s proposed policy will catalyze the much needed replacement of aging water infrastructure across the country, but will require equitable implementation to ensure that everyone has access to safe and affordable drinking water.
“We are pleased to see the provision for full replacement of lead service lines paired with strong encouragement by the EPA for customer-side line replacement to be offered at no direct cost to the customer, whenever possible,” said Yasmin Zaerpoor, Director of Water Equity and Climate Resilience at PolicyLink. “We hope to see states and water systems draw from federal funds in a way that helps reduce any potential burdens faced by low-income homeowners and renters and helps provide water that is safe and affordable.”