EDITORIAL: Drinking from a fire hose

Why the Environmental Protection Agency should mandate good sense

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The Environmental Protection Agency thinks of everything, which is why the agency is often a hazard to your mental health. Once it heard the old saw about the difficulty of “drinking from a fire hose,” the agency sprang to action to protect Americans who might get lead poisoning from drinking from a fire hose. Beginning next year, the EPA will require fire hydrants to flow with water as pure as a mountain spring.

Hundreds of thousands of fire hydrants will be rendered obsolete by the EPA’s interpretation of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which bars the use of lead in pipes that carry potable water. The statute specifically excludes industrial pipes and fixtures “where the water is not anticipated to be used for human consumption.”

Made of cast iron, fire hydrants are built to be ugly, tough and reliable. They’re not meant for providing the water to mix with a fine Scotch, or for mixing with flour and baking powder for a pan of scratch biscuits, and only a government bureaucrat would think to use a fire hydrant as a drinking fountain. President Obama’s bureaucrats are, naturally, the exceptions. “As a class, hydrants would not qualify for the exclusion for pipes, fittings and fixtures used exclusively for nonpotable services,” the EPA explains. But because they “can be, and are, used in emergency situations to provide drinking water,” the agency considers hydrants to be drinking fountains. If the administration knows of any actual instances of lead poisoning from hydrants, it did not say so. The EPA rule is to ban first, investigate later.

Since the new EPA regulation covers “fittings” for pipes and fire hydrants, the brackets that connect fire hoses could come under scrutiny next. Firemen across the country must go on a hunt for lead lest someone, somewhere, drink from a fire hose.

Hydrants cost from $1,500 and $2,500 each, not counting installation. The District of Columbia maintains 9,400 hydrants, and Los Angeles, for another example, maintains 60,115. They’re constantly monitored and must be repaired frequently as they reach the end of their service life. In Washington, about 120 hydrants went out of service this year. The difficulty for towns and cities is that nobody makes an EPA-certified fire hydrant delivering water for drinking.

The EPA official is never troubled about mandating the impossible and the absurd. The Renewable Fuel Standard requires oil companies to produce a type of biofuel that doesn’t exist outside of a laboratory. Farmers have been required to document the amount of manure their animals generate as part of “greenhouse gas” regulations. During the BP oil-spill cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA refused to allow Dutch oil skimmers to separate the oil from the water because the clean water was returned to the sea. The EPA, unlike the fire hose, is hazardous to good sense.

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