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EPA moves toward updating lead water pipe standards

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The Trump administration is moving forward on potentially updating the 26-year-old standards meant to keep lead out of drinking water.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt reached out to groups representing states and municipalities in a Thursday letter, inviting them to meet next month about potential revisions the agency is considering to what’s known as the Lead and Copper Rule.

The Obama administration had kicked off the revision process for the rule in 2010, but it accelerated the process following the Flint, Mich., drinking water crisis, which started in 2014 when poorly treated drinking water corroded pipes and dramatically elevated lead levels in the city.


“Despite lead contaminated sites being an environmental threat to our country, EPA has not updated the Lead and Copper Rule in decades,” Pruitt said in a statement.

“In keeping with our commitment to cooperative federalism, EPA is seeking input from state stakeholders on proposed revisions to properly address lead and ensure communities have access to safe drinking water.”

Pruitt has made drinking water — and improved water infrastructure — a stated priority of his time at the EPA, and has used the Flint water crisis to criticize the EPA under Obama. But any significant changes to regulations are likely to come with high compliance costs.

In an October 2016 white paper, the Obama EPA laid out options for revising the rule, with options ranging from improving sampling standards that water utilities use to monitor lead levels to dramatically ramping up the standards for replacing old lead pipes.

Any revisions by the EPA are also likely to crack down on smaller uses of lead, like in pipe fittings and solder, and to increase the standards’ focus on vulnerable people like children and pregnant women.

The Lead and Copper Rule was last revised in 1991. Its requirements include that water utilities put anti-corrosion additives into water and set a nonenforceable goal of zero lead in drinking water.

Lead exposure mainly affects humans’ brains and kidneys. Its impacts can include developmental problems, abdominal pain and death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that no amount of lead consumption is safe.

Tags Drinking water Environmental Protection Agency Flint water crisis Lead Scott Pruitt

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