The tragedy of lead-laced water in Flint, Mich., has entered the national consciousness and has provoked a visceral reaction from the public: “Could this happen in my town? What’s under the ground affecting my water that I can’t see?” And for good reason: Over 15% of the homes in Flint have lead levels higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) established safe limit, dozens of individuals have elevated levels of lead in their blood and the number of children permanently impacted will not be known for years. Much has been written about how we got here, but I want to focus on the potential fallout for other communities, including those systems containing lead.
Long before the crisis in Flint, the EPA began consideration of long-term revisions of the Lead and Copper Rule. The National Drinking Water Advisory Council Lead and Copper Rule Working Group was convened in March 2014. Among the issues they were asked to consider was lead service line replacement.
Lead service line replacement is a controversial topic. Since the Flint situation came to light, public demand for it has increased. However, the amount of investment of both time and resources needed for these replacements can be overwhelming, especially when coupled with the legal issues involved with entering private property to replace privately owned pipe between the street and the consumer. With that in mind, the EPA asked the Science Advisory Board to examine current scientific data to evaluate the effectiveness of partial lead service line replacements (PLSLR).
The board’s report indicated that there was insufficient data to make strong conclusions, but the available data suggested no benefit and at least potential short-term harm from PLSLR. The report did note that full lead service line replacement appeared “generally effective.” You can read more of the report here.
What does that mean for you? There is no clear timeline for the issuance of a proposed or final rule, but the catastrophe of Flint is likely to speed up the EPA’s process and will certainly influence the result. Against the backdrop of public alarm, intense media scrutiny and fiery congressional hearings, a more forceful rule may be in the works. Your community may need to get more aggressive about lead service line replacement, regardless of your history of safely maintaining your system or your ability to pay for the change.
History tells us that EPA rule changes are often unfunded mandates. That is why, at SplashLink.com, we are keeping a close eye on this process and continuing to focus on providing you with the most comprehensive resource of available funding opportunities to adapt to these changes and whatever else may be coming. If you or your community are in need of extra help or just want more information on the long-term revisions of the Lead and Copper Rule, please do not hesitate to reach out to me personally using the information below.
Jason Wuliger is co-founder and vice president of SplashLink.com. Wuliger can be reached at [email protected] or 440.497.0047.