EPA proposes plan to replace 100% of lead service lines within 10 years

By: - December 1, 2023 1:17 pm

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection announced on Thursday an ambitious national plan to replace all lead pipe service lines within 10 years, including in Pennsylvania. 

The proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements are part of an effort to reduce lead in drinking water that can harm children and adults and disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities.

“The science is clear, there is no safe level of lead exposure,” the EPA wrote in a fact sheet explaining the proposed rule. “In adults, lead can cause increased blood pressure, heart disease, decreased kidney function, and cancer. In children, it can severely harm mental and physical development, slowing down learning and damaging the brain.”

The EPA reports that there are more than 9 million lead service lines in use across the country, despite their usage being banned in 1986 when Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In Pennsylvania, 688,697 lead service lines remain in use, according to Pew Trust. The Commonwealth ranks fourth in the nation, just behind Florida, Illinois, and Ohio, for the number of lead service lines in use. 

Environmental advocates in the commonwealth quickly responded to the news, praising the Biden administration’s effort to address lead water contamination.

“The EPA’s proposed policy finally tackles the root of the problem — lead pipes that are inherently unsafe and unsuitable for drinking water. The agency’s 10-year deadline turns President Biden’s ambitious public health goal into an enforceable reality,” David Masur, executive director for the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, said. “These toxic pipes are the single largest source of lead-water contamination for millions of Americans. In mandating their rapid removal, EPA is moving to get the lead out — as common sense and safe drinking water demand.

Earlier this year, a national Environment America report gave Pennsylvania an “F” grade for its laws and regulations around lead contamination of schools’ drinking water, citing a loophole in state law that allows districts to skip annual lead testing if they hold a public meeting on the issue. 

While Masur praised federal efforts to replace lead service lines, he noted that when it comes to schools, other components, such as valves and lead solder joints, are also contributing to lead water contamination

“Our kids deserve safe drinking water wherever they go to learn and play each day. When it comes to schools’ drinking water, we would encourage the EPA to do more homework before finalizing this rule,” Masur said.

The EPA will hold a public informational webinar on Dec. 6 about the proposed rule, as well as a second session on Jan. 16, 2024, to take public comment on the rule. 

The EPA tentatively plans for the rule to be finalized by mid-October 2024.

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