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EPA Proposes Updates to Lead and Copper Rule to Better Protect Children and At-Risk Communities

Lead and Copper Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed Lead and Copper Rule that significantly improves the actions that water systems must take to reduce lead in the nation’s drinking water. This action represents the first major overhaul of the Lead and Copper Rule since 1991.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated “By improving protocols for identifying lead, expanding sampling, and strengthening treatment requirements, our proposal would ensure that more water systems proactively take actions to prevent lead exposure, especially in schools, child care facilities, and the most at-risk communities. We are also working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to encourage states and cities to make full use of the many funding and financing options provided by the federal government.”

Key areas for the Lead and Copper Rule

The proposal focuses on six key areas. Under the proposal, a community water system would be required to take new actions, including, but not limited to:

  • Identifying the most impacted areas. 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. Whenever a sample in a home exceeds 15 parts per billion (ppb).
  • Strengthening drinking water treatment. Requiring corrosion control treatment based on tap sampling results and establishing a new trigger level of 10 ppb (e.g. trigger level outlined below).
  • Replacing lead service lines. 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.
  • Increasing drinking water sampling reliability. Requiring water systems to follow new, improved sampling procedures and adjust sampling sites to better target locations with higher lead levels.
  • Improving risk communication to customers. 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.
  • Better protecting children in schools and child care facilities. Requiring water systems to take drinking water samples from the schools and child care facilities served by the system.

Lead and Copper Rule trigger level

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. 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 LSLs in the inventory at the time the action level exceedance occurs.

Smaller systems protection

Additionally, small systems that exceed the trigger and action levels will have flexibility with respect to treatment and LSL replacement actions. This will allow smaller systems to protect public health by taking the action that makes sense for their community.

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