Duckworth Urges EPA to Strengthen Drinking Water Protections to Prevent Lead Poisoning
[WASHINGTON, DC] - U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), the top Democrat on the Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee, and Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen protections against lead poisoning in our nation's pipes, fittings, and fixtures that supply drinking water. In a comment on the EPA's proposed rule on the "Use of Lead Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder and Flux for Drinking Water," Duckworth and Kildee emphasized the public health concerns of lead poisoning and recommended three rule changes: eliminate exemptions for lead in pipes, fittings, and fixtures; maintain lead-free requirements that meet third party standards; and require third party certification for all manufacturers of pipes, fittings, and fixtures.
"For vulnerable populations like young children, pregnant mothers and the elderly, exposure to lead can be life altering. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that can permanently impact brain development, especially in young children ... [yet] evidence is mounting that the lead in water problem the U.S faces is grossly underestimated and inadequately addressed," Duckworth and Kildee wrote. "It must be the EPA's aim to eliminate all sources of lead in drinking water - especially replacing full and partial lead service lines, which are widely acknowledged to pose the most dangerous risk to drinking water in communities. This proposed rule is a critical opportunity to protect public health for residents replacing their household water infrastructure."
Senator Duckworth has been outspoken about the need to address failures in our public water systems and has introduced several pieces of legislation on lead in America's drinking water. Last year, Duckworth introduced two pieces of legislation to address the nationwide contaminated drinking water crisis, including the Copper and Lead Evaluation, Assessment and Reporting (CLEAR) Act of 2016 and the GET THE LEAD OUT Act. The bills would improve water testing to keep potential contaminants like lead and copper out of public water supplies and provide resources to help communities remove contaminants that may already be present.
A career civil servant from the EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago was instrumental in exposing the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan. When fully-resourced, these offices are vital to the protecting our natural resources from pollution and keeping our children safe from lead poisoning.
A copy of the letter is available below:
May 17, 2017
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Mail code: 2822T
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20460
RE: Comments on Proposed Rule "Use of Lead Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder and Flux for Drinking Water," Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2015-0680
To Whom It May Concern:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Federal Register notice on the proposed rule Use of Lead Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder and Flux for Drinking Water. This regulation will codify and clarify requirements under the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act of 2011 (RLDWA) and the Community Fire Safety Act of 2013 (CFSA). Further, we applaud EPA for taking steps to ensure that these requirements are clear and meet Congress's intention to eliminate exposure to lead in our drinking water.
For vulnerable populations like young children, pregnant mothers and the elderly, exposure to lead can be life altering. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that can permanently impact brain development, especially in young children. Thus, according to public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EPA, the American Association of Pediatrics and many others, there is no safe level of lead exposure. Recently, Congress acknowledged this when they passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (PL: 114-332) that included a provision requiring all lead to be removed from a service line. It is clear that it is Congress' intent to remove all lead in drinking water plumbing.
The Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which is the standard that regulates lead in drinking water, establishes requirements for lead sampling at customers' taps and treatment requirements for reducing lead levels when high lead is measured at customers' taps. However, there are major deficiencies with this rule and implementation and enforcement violations are widespread, as we have seen especially with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.  In spite of these deficiencies, the EPA has not updated the LCR in 26 years.
Communities across the country are grappling with an ongoing public health crisis. Evidence is mounting that the lead in water problem the U.S faces is grossly underestimated and inadequately addressed.  Unlike other contaminants in drinking water, the source of lead is almost exclusively from the distribution system or a home's plumbing. This proposed rule has the capacity to help us address some of those issues as most homes in the country are likely to contain some lead-bearing plumbing. Therefore, any effort to eliminate the lead in drinking water problems must include reliable access to lead free drinking water pipes, fittings, and fixtures.
It must be the EPA's aim to eliminate all sources of lead in drinking water - especially replacing full and partial lead service lines, which are widely acknowledged to pose the most dangerous risk to drinking water in communities. This proposed rule is a critical opportunity to protect public health for residents replacing their household water infrastructure. Water infrastructure and plumbing is intended to have a working life cycle of many decades. Therefore, failure to create a sufficiently protective rule will continue to reinforce long-term problems that fall under the LCR, add costs to public water systems that must maintain compliance with the LCR, and continue to expose innocent residents to unnecessary lead in their drinking water by public water systems and private wells.
After consulting with experts, such as those at the Northeast Midwest Institute, we encourage EPA to finalize this rule with an approach that is most protective of public health: require all pipes, fittings, and fixtures that are compatible with potable water systems to meet the "lead free" definition in the RLDWA; and require them all to be third party certified, continuing the use of both NSF 61 and 372 standards.
1. Eliminate exemptions for pipes, fittings, and fixtures that are compatible with potable water systems. The exemption allowing plumbing pipes, fixtures, and fittings to not meet the definition of lead free should only apply to pipes, fixtures, and fittings that are not compatible with potable water systems and have no risk of being installed, intentionally or unintentionally, in a potable water system.
This improvement to the current regulation will be simpler to implement and enforce than the current and proposed approaches. And, importantly, it would not rely on the consumers to investigate labels or packaging no longer on the pipe, fitting, or fixture. If the exemption is eliminated, there would be no conflict between the fittings and fixtures that plumbing manufacturers intend for potable water use and those that the general public expect to be for drinkable water. Public water systems will not be forced to install and tweak corrosion control to address plumbing components that should have never been installed in the first place.
2. Maintain requirements to meet third party standards. While the new definition of "lead free" reduces the percentage of lead in any pipe, fitting or fixture, it does not sufficiently protect public health. The continued use of the NSF 61 standard solves this problem and will ensure that lead does not leach into water supplies. This is even more important where corrosion control is not used, particularly in private well applications.
In addition to codifying the new definition of "lead free," the final rule should reinstate the requirement that lead free products be in compliance with standards established in accordance with SDWA section 1471(e) for leaching of lead from new plumbing fittings and fixtures. This will create clarity and consistency with existing practices, plumbing codes, the intent of Congress, and for protection of public health. EPA should also reference NSF 61 standards directly in the final rule to clarify this issue, add a requirement for pipes to be in compliance with the standard, and require consistent product markings so consumers can clearly know what they are purchasing.
3. Require third party certification for all manufacturers of pipes, fittings, and fixtures. Self-certification requirements for manufacturers with fewer than 100 employees in lieu of third party certification required for larger manufacturers will potentially lead to two different quality products with labeling that may imply that the products are equivalent. While accommodating smaller manufacturers theoretically reduces burden for those companies and helps them stay in business, having two sets of standards to enforce increases the burden for EPA and for states implementing the regulations. As a result, it will be harder to ensure public health protection. As we constantly see budget cuts for EPA and state public water system supervision programs, EPA will be able to more effectively implement and enforce these standards for better public health protection if the current standard for third party certification applies to all manufacturers.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on this important notice and your attention on this important matter.
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