Pascrell, Pallone, Kildee, Stefanik Urge EPA to Update Lead & Copper Rule
WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Dan Kildee (D-MI) led a bipartisan letter to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) urging the agency to update lead action levels to reflect the latest science as they undertake long-term revisions of the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).
The letter (link to PDF) follows water crises in the homes of Flint, Michigan, the schools of Newark, New Jersey, and numerous other communities across the nation, which highlighted the urgent need to improve the public’s awareness of lead contaminated drinking water.
"We urge you to ensure [the updated LCR] reflects the latest science on incidence and health effects from lead in drinking water and effective notification of elevated levels," the members wrote. "The current lead action level was developed in 1991 based on the practical feasibility at that time of reducing lead through controlling corrosion. Corrosion control technologies and our understanding of the negative impacts of lead at low doses have advanced significantly since that time."
The letter also follows one day after reports that the Cannon House Office Building in the U.S. House of Representatives has registered above normal lead levels.
Background on the Lead and Copper Rule
In 1991, the EPA established the LCR to control and monitor the levels of lead in drinking water. The rule requires public water systems to take certain actions to minimize lead and copper in drinking water, reduce water corrosion to prevent the leaching of these metals, and in some cases replace lead service lines when an “action level” of 15 ppb is exceeded in more than ten percent of tap water samples collected during any monitoring period. To develop this rule the EPA used the best available data at the time which used 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dl) for lead levels in blood as a reference point to identify blood lead levels that were worrisome from a health standpoint. To learn more about the Lead and Copper rule, click here.
Background on Lead Toxicity
In 1991, the CDC established 10 µg/dl for lead levels in blood as “level of concern” to identify children at risk of lead poisoning. In recognition of lead’s high toxicity at low doses, in 2012 the CDC cut in half the amount at which a child’s blood lead level requires reporting and possible intervention from 10 to 5 micrograms per deciliter, now called a “reference level” (link here). According to the National Institutes of Health, lead is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children’s developing nerves and brains (link here). According to the EPA, 10-20 percent of the lead that poisons children comes from tap water (link here). The EPA also highlights that childhood exposure to lead has lifelong consequences, including decreased IQ and cognitive function, developmental delays and behavioral problems. Very high levels of lead exposure can cause seizures, coma and even death. Some health organizations, like the National Center for Environmental Health in a 2012 study, argue that no safe blood-lead threshold in children has yet been identified (link here).
Text of the letter is below:
Dear EPA Administrator McCarthy:
As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completes revisions of the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), we urge you to ensure it reflects the latest science on incidence and health effects from lead in drinking water and effective notification of elevated levels.
We understand the LCR currently requires public water systems (PWSs) to take certain actions to minimize lead and copper contamination in drinking water (i.e., reduce water corrosivity to prevent the leaching of these metals), monitor lead levels at the customer tap, and conduct public education if there is a lead action level exceedance. When other measures are not sufficient for the water system to avoid an action level exceedance of 15 parts per billion (ppb) in more than ten percent of tap water samples collected during any monitoring period, the rule requires water systems to replace lead service lines.
The current lead action level was developed in 1991 based on the practical feasibility at that time of reducing lead through controlling corrosion. Corrosion control technologies and our understanding of the negative impacts of lead at low doses have advanced significantly since that time.
In 1991, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dl) as a level of concern for blood lead levels in children. However, in 2012 the CDC recognized that parents may not be notified of blood lead levels below 10 µg/dl and so established a reference level for lead representing the 97.5th percentile of blood lead levels in children. CDC will update this reference level every four years. Currently it is 5 µg/dl, and it will hopefully continue to decrease as we remove sources of lead exposure from the environment, including from drinking water contamination.
The LCR currently aims to keep lead levels in water below 15 ppb at the 90th percentile home. In 2011, the World Health Organization established guidelines of 10 ppb for lead on the basis of treatment performance and analytical achievability. The European Union Council Directive on drinking water quality also established 10 ppb in its standards for public notification. Therefore, we strongly urge you to bring the current rules and action level in line with the most up-to-date scientific research on lead levels and corrosion controls as you finalize revisions to the LCR.
While we understand the action level does not represent a health based standard, it is an important tool for triggering public notification and other actions to reduce the public’s exposure to lead drinking water contamination. Major public health officials, federal and state public health agencies, and international public health organizations have long recognized is that there is no safe level of lead. This consensus has formed based on decades of scientific research and public health documents demonstrating that it does not matter if a person breathes-in, swallows, or otherwise absorbs lead, there are negative health impacts from lead exposure. Further, the health effects from exposure to lead are especially of concern for pregnant women, infants, and young children and often disproportionately impact minority communities and low income individuals. In fact, the CDC reports that there are at least four million households where children reside that are being exposed to high levels of lead. Additionally, the CDC estimates there are approximately 500,000 U.S. children ages one through five with blood lead levels above 5 µg/dl, the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.
We urge you to establish a national clearinghouse of information for the public, as recommended in the Lead and Copper Rule Working Group report drafted by the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. We believe it is critical that the public and all levels of government are notified when a significant number of tests come back above the LCR’s action level.
Leadership by the EPA is essential to improving the effectiveness of corrosion control treatments and other actions needed to reduce exposure of lead in drinking water. While we understand this cannot be achieved by EPA regulation alone, we must put strong regulations in place to protect the public’s health and ensure that our drinking water is safe. We look forward to working with you in the future as EPA updates and implements the LCR. Thank you for your consideration.
Signatories: Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr., Frank Pallone, Jr., Elise Stefanik, Daniel T. Kildee, Candice S. Miller, Donald S. Beyer Jr., Earl Blumenauer, Brendan Boyle, Robert Brady, Corrine Brown, Cheri Bustos, G. K. Butterfield, Lois Capps, Tony Cárdenas, Matthew Cartwright, Katherine Clark, Gerald E. Connolly, John Conyers, Jr., Elijah E. Cummings, Danny K. Davis, Mark DeSaulnier, Debbie Dingell, Anna G. Eshoo, Elizabeth H. Esty, Gene Green, Raúl M. Grijalva, Luis V. Gutiérrez, Brian Higgins, Hakeem Jeffries, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Marcy Kaptur, Derek Kilmer, Brenda Lawrence, Barbara Lee, Sander M. Levin, John Lewis, Ted Lieu, Zoe Lofgren, Alan Lowenthal, Betty McCollum, James McGovern, Jerry McNerney, Seth Moulton, Jerrold Nadler, Grace Napolitano, Richard M. Nolan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Beto O’Rourke, Scott Peters, Jared Polis, Mike Quigley, Bobby L. Rush, Tim Ryan, Jan Schakowsky, Adam Schiff, José E. Serrano, Albio Sires, Jackie Speier, Niki Tsongas, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and John A. Yarmuth.