EPA updates rules for lead contamination

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Nearly 30 years after it set lead standards for drinking water, the United States Environmental Protection Agency is updating its rules that are designed to protect Americans from dangerous lead contamination.

They say the new rules protect millions of Americans, especially young children from lead water poisoning.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler says the EPA will now require water systems to test every school or daycare’s drinking water for lead contamination.

“That’s a huge step,” Wheeler said. “ … wherever they are regardless of zip code.”

The rules also require utilities to replace dangerous underground pipes at a customer’s request and requires water companies to immediately alert customers if they discover high levels of lead.

“We’re arming everybody with the information they need to make sure that their families and their children are protected,” Wheeler said.

The EPA’s proposal also establishes a new trigger level of 10 ppb. At this trigger level, systems that currently treat for corrosion would be required to reoptimize their existing treatment. Systems that do not currently treat for corrosion would be required to conduct a corrosion control study so that the system is prepared to respond quickly when necessary.

Some environmentalists and democratic lawmakers are already critical of the plan and say it doesn’t go nearly far enough. They say that since the rules don’t reduce the acceptable levels of lead in drinking water, they’re actually taking a step backward.

“This keeps the same standard that has been in place that lead to the problems that we’ve seen in Flint and other places around the country and actually reduces the urgency to replace those lead lines,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said.

Kildee represents the city of Flint where thousands of children were poisoned by lead contaminated drinking water in 2015.

“We’d hope that the lessons of Flint would mean a real aggressive standard,” Kildee said.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., says the new rules don’t do enough.

“There’s a lot more that needs to be done,” Duckworth said. “Our kids are definitely at potential to be exposed … if they’re in a building that was built in the 1970s or earlier.”

Both Kildee and Duckworth are pushing bills they say would actually reduce allowable levels of lead and help pay to replace dangerous lead pipes.

When asked about the criticism, Wheeler pushed back. He says the agency used the best science available to draft rules. He says under new rules, communities throughout the country will have better tools to identify lead contamination and fight back.

The government is taking public comment for 60 days.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Wheeler was the acting administrator. While he previously held the position with an acting basis, he is now the administrator.

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