The Agency Was Slow to Revise Its Lead Pipe Regulations Under Obama, Worse Under Trump
Almost three decades after the landmark Lead and Copper Rule went into effect, children and pregnant women are being poisoned by lead in our nation’s drinking water in part because there is no requirement that the EPA be notified about where lead pipes are.
Public employees are pushing the EPA to rewrite its regulations which have helped enable crises like Flint, Mich., and now Newark, N.J. An estimated 15 million to 22 million people, or 5% to 7.5% of our nation’s population, drink water delivered through lead pipes.
“EPA has known about this problem for years but has yet to lift a regulatory finger,” said Kyla Bennett of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The EPA under former President Barack Obama and now Trump have delayed plans to revise the Lead and Copper Rule six times. The agency is now supposed to start the rulemaking process in February.
Trump has stacked the agency with industry-friendly appointees such as attorney Susan Bodine who heads the EPA’s enforcement unit. David P. Ross worked to help polluters before Trump nominated him to run the EPA’s the Office of Water. Patrick Traylor, the deputy in the enforcement office, represented companies owned by the Koch brothers.
There are no safe levels of lead in drinking water. Low levels of exposure to lead in children are linked in hyperactivity, anemia, lower IQs, physical and learning disabilities and slowed growth. In pregnant women, lead can be transmitted to the bones of the developing fetus. In adults, lead can lead to memory loss and high blood pressure. Bones can retain lead for decades.
The 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, written under former President George H.W. Bush and last updated in 2007, required water systems to collect information about the location of lead pipes. But there was no requirement that states tell the EPA where the lead pipes were.
After the Flint crisis, the EPA asked states in 2016 to collect information about where lead pipes were and publish that information online on local or state websites. Nine states, including Kansas and North Carolina, told the EPA they wouldn’t or didn’t intend to because of challenges in finding the information or dedicating staff time.
“We do not have the initial materials inventory from systems readily available and do not intend to spend valuable staff resources sifting through microfilm to find this information,” wrote Steven Pirner, the South Dakota secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Thirteen states noted that the Lead and Copper Rule doesn’t require states to maintain information about lead pipes in water systems or provide the information to the public.
The public employees’ group has petitioned the EPA to require that states report information on lead pipes. The group is also asking that the EPA require states to report information about small water systems that may be at risk of lead problems and do a statistical analysis to identify at-risk water systems.