Biden delays Trump changes to lead and copper drinking water rule

Biden delays Trump changes to lead and copper drinking water rule
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The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it is delaying the implementation of a Trump administration update to a rule governing lead and copper in drinking water. 

The rule in question is expected to quicken the speed at which cities need to notify people who may have been exposed to lead but gives utilities a longer timeline to replace lead-tainted service lines. 

A new statement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that it is extending the date that the rule becomes effective, delaying it until at least June 17. It was originally expected to go into effect next week. 

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Radhika Fox, the agency’s acting assistant administrator for water, said in the statement that the EPA is extending the rule so it can review it and “fully consult with stakeholders, including those that have been disproportionately impacted by lead in drinking water.”

“Exposure to lead in drinking water can be a very serious problem for children’s health. It is essential that EPA takes the time now to review this important rule to ensure that we are protecting current and future generations,” Fox said. 

The EPA said that it will also take public comment on an action that would extend the effective date until Dec. 16. 

The Trump administration’s rule would require monitoring for lead at primary schools and child care centers. It would also require cities to notify residents of potential lead exposure within 24 hours. 

However, the rule extends the amount of time utilities have to replace the lead service lines that connect homes to the water supply. Critics argue that the extension could allow lead-tainted pipes to remain underground for another 30 years.

The rule also does not enact a stricter limit on lead levels in water, which advocates say is necessary to protect health. The rule creates a 10 parts per billion (ppb) “trigger” level at which cities would need to reevaluate their water treatment processes and possibly add corrosion-control chemicals to city water.

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But it keeps the previously set 15 ppb level that requires cities to begin replacing the nation's estimated 6 million lead service lines that connect homes to city water supplies — the underlying source of lead contamination. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to lead can harm children's health and can cause brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, and problems with learning, behavior, hearing and speech. 

The decision to delay the rule comes after the Biden administration issued a memo freezing pending regulations for review. 

The White House also separately identified the lead and copper rule as one of dozens of Trump administration environmental rules that it would seek to review.