Agency Extends Time for Utilities, Cities to Replace Lead Water Pipes
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing criminal charges for his role in poisoning people with lead in their drinking water in Flint, Mich. Yet the Trump EPA recently released a new rule that will allow another generation of children in our nation to grow up stunted by lead poisoning.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the rule that allows lead pipes to remain in drinking water systems for up to 33 years. The pipes were supposed to be replaced within 15 years under the 1991 rule the new rule replaces.
“After the Flint, Mich., disaster, Wheeler’s EPA had a chance to give environmental justice a win, as there is no safe level of level, and this issue disproportionately affects minority communities,” said Kyla Bennett, the chief scientist for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The dangers of lead pipes in drinking water systems were known more than a century ago.
The rule could be rescinded by Congress and the Biden administration under the Congressional Review Act . Congress, under the act, can roll back rules put in place in the last months of a previous administration.
In Michigan, Snyder and eight other former state officials have been charged criminally for failure to protect the safety and health of Flint residents. Snyder is facing two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty. He could face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
In 2014, the city began drawing water from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron to save money. The river water was more corrosive and caused lead to leach from the pipes. Six years later, Flint residents are still drinking bottled water. At least nine people died of Legionnaires’ disease.[action}
ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It
A December study by the Government Accountability Office found that areas with older housing and families in poverty have higher concentrations of lead pipes in their drinking water systems. The EPA doesn’t know how many homes have lead services lines, the pipes from the water main to the home. But the number is estimated at 6.1 million to 10 million nationwide.
The EPA, states and local water systems share the responsibility for providing safe drinking water, but the EPA is responsible for making information available to the public about lead in drinking water.
Lead was used widely in plumbing materials, including drinking-water service lines, until 1986, when the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to prohibit generally installing lead pipes. The dangers of lead pipes in drinking water systems were known more than a century ago, but the Lead Industries Association promoted using lead pipes and campaigned against bans.
Low levels of exposure to lead in children are linked to 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.