- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday announced a plan designed to strengthen and update regulations for testing and decreasing lead in drinking water.

“We need to free people from worrying about lead in their drinking water,” said Ben Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water. “This plan will increase the accuracy and consistency of monitoring and reporting, and it ensures that where there is a problem, people will be notified, and the problem will be dealt with quickly and properly.”

By early next year, the EPA plans to propose regulatory changes to the Lead and Copper Rule, issued in 1991 to reduce lead in drinking water. The action, which follows extensive analysis of how current regulations have been implemented, will “tighten monitoring, treatment, lead service line management and customer awareness,” the federal agency said.

In addition, the EPA said it will modernize and expand 1994 guidelines on testing for lead in the drinking water of schools and child care facilities. The plan will emphasize partnerships with other federal agencies, utilities and schools to protect children from lead in tap water.

Announcement of the Drinking Water Lead Reduction Plan comes one year after the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) was the subject of public scrutiny and criticism as it battled high levels of lead in the District of Columbia’s drinking water. WASA began a multimillion-dollar program to replace lead-lined pipes throughout the nation’s capital.

Health specialists at both the local and national levels say only pregnant women and children 6 and younger have to fear excess lead in the tap water. Damage from lead in unborn children and young children tends to center on the brain and is not reversible.

The EPA’s lead standard for consumable water is 15 parts per billion (ppb). But the lead levels in thousands of Washington homes last year tested at 50 ppb, with some topping 300 ppb. Those scrutinizing the city’s problem said poor communication, slow replacement of lead lines and weak EPA enforcement contributed to a lack of progress.

Despite difficulties, the EPA said yesterday its review of state and utility records shows that the lead rule has been effective in more than 96 percent of water systems that serve 3,300 people or more.

“Virtually all lead enters water after it leaves the main system to enter individual homes and buildings,” the EPA said. Lead is picked up as water passes through pipes and household plumbing fixtures that contain the toxic metal. Water leaches lead from these sources and becomes contaminated.

The Lead and Copper Rule is the only drinking-water regulation that requires utilities to test water at the tap. Under the rule, if 10 percent of required sampling shows lead levels above 15 ppb, the utility must take steps to control erosion and educate the public on how to reduce exposure to lead.

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