EPA prepares final rule for lead testing

A draft of the final rule obtained by The New York Times shows the EPA rejected top medical and scientific experts who urged the agency to require the replacement of the country’s 6 million to 10 million lead service lines, an expensive but effective way to avoid crises like the one still afflicting Flint, Michigan.

The measure is the first major update in nearly three decades to the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, a regulation aimed at protecting drinking water from lead, a potent neurotoxin that has been linked to developmental problems in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said there is no safe level of lead exposure for children, and the new rule requires for the first time testing for lead in all schools and day care centers.

Rather than enact the sweeping changes that some health leaders say are necessary, EPA is opting for more modest improvements. Some experts and critics said the new rule actually weakens the current rule in significant ways, for instance, by more than doubling the amount of time utilities can have to replace water systems with serious levels of lead contamination.

James Hewitt, a spokesman for the EPA, said in a statement that it is “premature to draw any conclusions on a rule that is still undergoing interagency review.” He added that the Trump administration “is committed to finally acting to better protect our children’s health and holistically address lead in America’s water systems.”

Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the EPA, has described the rule in recent speeches as a core achievement of the agency under Trump, who often boasts of producing the “cleanest air” and the “cleanest water” even as he has dismantled nearly 70 environmental regulations and is pushing to roll back another 30.

The Lead and Copper Rule was enacted in 1991 to regulate the levels of lead in public water systems. The EPA has said the updated version will identify the most at-risk communities and make sure that communities have in place plans to reduce elevated levels of lead.

Schools and child care centers, for example, would be required to notify those who use their facilities of elevated lead levels within 24 hours of testing rather than the current 30 days. The rule also would require water utilities to conduct inventories of their lead service pipes and publicly report their locations.

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