WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration Thursday proposed a rewrite of rules for dealing with lead pipes contaminating drinking water, but critics say the changes appear to give water systems decades to replace dangerous pipes.
Contrary to regulatory rollbacks in many other areas, the administration has called dealing with lead contamination a priority. Communities and families in Flint, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey, and elsewhere have had to grapple with high levels of lead in tap water and regulatory failures to address the threat.
Ingesting lead has been linked to developmental delays in children and can damage the brain, blood cells and kidneys. It is usually caused by lead service lines connecting a home to a water main or lead fixtures in a home or school.
At a news conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced changes that include requiring water systems to test lead levels in water at schools and child care facilities. Officials would be required to identify areas with the worst contamination and toughen procedures for sampling water.
But Wheeler disappointed some by declining to lower the contamination level that triggers remediation. And another change lowers the amount of lead pipe that systems have to replace each year once the threshold is hit from 7% to 3%.
That, according to Eric Olson at the Natural Resources Defense Council, would give water utilities about 20 more years to fully replace all the lead pipes in a contaminated system.
Wheeler said other smaller changes will offset that. Overall, he said, the rule changes mean old pipe will be “replaced at a much faster rate than ever before.”
Betsy Southerland, a senior EPA water official under the Obama administration, said the plan fails to meet the urgency of the country’s 1991 rules for cleaning up lead in water systems.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician and public health official who helped expose her city’s lead crisis, on Thursday said the proposed changes were “a missed opportunity.”
“Science has taught us so much about lead. We’ve learned there’s no acceptable level,” she said. “I was hopeful the new rule would have respected current science.”