ASCE Submits Public Comments to EPA’s Proposed Lead and Copper Rule

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This week, ASCE submitted public comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Lead and Copper Rule; this is the first major update to the Lead and Copper Rule since 1991. It is widely recognized that any level of exposure to lead can have detrimental health impacts, and low income populations are more likely to be exposed to lead in their residences due to housing age and the greater potential for existing lead service lines in low income housing. However, lead was common in pipes through the mid-20th century, and many of our nation’s cities contain lead service lines.

The proposed rule includes the following provisions, among others:

  • Requires a publicly available lead service line inventory;
  • Establishes a new “trigger level” of 10 parts per billion (ppb);
  • Requires water systems to replace the water system-owned portion of a lead service line when a customer chooses to replace their customer-owned portion of the line;
  • Prohibits partial lead service line replacements except in certain situations (ie. emergency repair);
  • Requires water systems above the 10 ppb trigger level (but below the 15 ppb action level) to work with their state to set an annual goal for replacing lead service lines and will be required to conduct outreach to encourage homeowner participation in the system’s lead service line replacement program;
  • Prohibits flushing and cleaning or removing faucet aerators before sampling;
  • Requires water systems to notify customers of an action level exceedance within 24 hours, versus the current law which only requires notification in 30 days;
  • Requires water systems to conduct lead in drinking water testing at 20 percent of K – 12 schools and licensed childcare centers in service areas every year.

The Society’s public comment letter thanks the EPA for its attempt to update the Lead and Copper rule and acknowledges that it is a complex issue with elements related to public health, environmental justice, public-private aspects of water distribution, and cost and cost incidences. The creation of lead service line inventories and widespread replacement of lead-containing elements in the distribution system will result in significant costs, and who bears these costs is an issue that must be addressed equitably. We share our concerns that this proposed rule could result in undue financial hardship for low income and/or elderly communities whose populations are at a higher risk for negative health impacts from lead in drinking water, and we urge that ample time and funding be provided to utilities in order to create lead service line inventories. We also request that the EPA clarify and define what constitutes a lead service line and note that only if the entire service line – both the public and private portions – is included in the inventory will there be enough information to reduce exposure to lead.

Our letter questions the scientific basis for the 10 ppb trigger level and recommends a continued focus on improving and maintaining optimal corrosion control techniques, which have historically been very successful in reducing lead and copper concentrations. We applaud the proposed rule’s addition of public education and sampling at schools and childcare facilities but have concerns with how a utility will be able to identify and contact all childcare facilities in a service area.

In closing, we thank the EPA for its efforts to update the nation’s Lead and Copper Rule. We encourage flexibility in the implementation of this rule and highlight the issues of affordability and equity. We urge Congress to identify new funding streams for water utilities, private owners, and government entities; to more fully appropriate existing funding mechanisms; and to make the funding process less burdensome for recipients. We note that as civil engineers, we can also make recommendations on more affordable pipe rehabilitation, inline replacement, and new line replacement methods.

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