House bill warns of EPA threat to fire hydrants

Reps. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation this week to block an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that would require fire hydrants to use lead-free pipes starting next year.

Johnson says that ruling would cause an immediate shortage of fire hydrants across the country, as any that are ready for installation would not meet the EPA's new requirement.

"Under the rule, no commercially available fire hydrants could be installed after January 4, 2014," Johnson said. "This means that whenever a car slides off the road and into a fire hydrant, cities across the country will either have to pay a fine to the EPA for installing an illegal fire hydrant, or risk leaving citizens in danger of being without life-saving fire hydrants."

On Oct. 22, the EPA issued guidance about the implementation of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, portions of which will take effect on January 4, 2014.

The law requires drinking water to be transported in lead-free pipes, and the guidance said the EPA would apply this same requirement to water that comes out of fire hydrants.

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"Information available to EPA indicates that fire hydrants can be, and are, used in emergency situations to provide drinking water when there are disruptions to the normal operations of the drinking water distribution system," the EPA wrote. "Therefore, as a class, hydrants would not qualify for the exclusion for pipes, fittings and fixtures used exclusively for nonpotable services."

The bill from Johnson and Tonko is the Community Fire Safety Act, H.R. 3588. Johnson calls EPA's decision "absurd" and said it risks public safety in order to deal with the tiny risk of exposure to lead through fire hydrants.

"While I support reducing the amount of lead in our drinking water, it is unconscionable that the EPA has put our public safety at risk because during the hot summer months sometimes, somewhere kids may play in fire hydrant water," Johnson said. "I've never heard of children becoming sick from playing in fire hydrant water."

The bill would change the law to include an exemption from fire hydrants under the law, just as shower valves are exempted.