One step closer to getting lead out of our drinking water

What's At Stake

It’s 2024 — but millions of people across the country still drink water that passes through lead pipes, putting countless communities at risk of harmful lead contamination. After decades of community advocacy and lawsuits filed on behalf of multiple organizations and states, including Earthjustice clients, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which regulates how water systems handle lead in water in according with the Safe Drinking Water Act.  But we need to keep the pressure up to make sure the final rule is as strong as possible. Urge the EPA to adopt provisions that will help remove lead from drinking water, and to strengthen the weaker parts of the rule.  

Lead service lines naturally corrode when water flows through them. This corrosion causes toxic lead to leach into our faucet water.  Exposure to low levels of lead presents significant health risks. Lead is especially dangerous for children, infants, and fetuses. Even in small amounts, it can cause permanent and irreversible harm to the central nervous system, resulting in learning difficulties, hearing and speech impediments, developmental delays, and other lifelong impairments. In adults, exposure can lead to cardiovascular disease, decreased kidney function, and miscarriage.  

And yet, even though Congress banned the installation of lead pipes in 1986, there are 9 to 12 million lead pipes in use according to EPA.  Water to millions of people is still delivered through them,– which disproportionately impacts communities of color – the same communities that also are more likely to be exposed to other pollutants. Thankfully, the new rule requires replacement of all lead pipelines in ten years for most water systems, lowers the levels at which water utilities must take other actions to address lead in drinking water, and requires improved water testing.  These are  welcome changes for communities dealing with lead in water.  

However, we need EPA to improve its final rule to ensure that the cities with the most lead service lines don’t receive lenient timelines – under the rule, places like Chicago would still have 40 years rather than 10 to replace all their lines. EPA should also ensure that those replacement lines are not made of plastics (and especially not PVC) – the creation of which devastates communities –  but instead made from copper. We also need to push EPA to require utilities to pay for lead service line replacement, so that lower wealth families dealing with exposure don’t get stuck with toxic lead lines while affluent communities get safe water.  

Finally, it is not just families in homes dealing with this crisis: children in schools are exposed to lead contamination because the water infrastructure in many schools and childcare centers is decades old and in desperate need of safe, lead-free pipes and fixtures. This is why it is crucial for EPA’s rule to focus on the installation of filters to prevent our kids from being exposed to lead at school.    

Urge the EPA to be bold and quickly finalize a stronger rule that will fulfill this administration’s goal of removing all lead service lines in America in ten years, and do so without throwing low-wealth communities under the bus. Urge EPA to strengthen the weaker parts of this rule. 

A lead pipe is shown after being replaced by a copper water supply line to a home in Flint, Mich., July 20, 2018. The Environmental Protection Agency will soon strengthen lead in drinking water regulations. (Paul Sancya / AP)
A lead pipe is shown after being replaced by a copper water supply line to a home in Flint, Mich., July 20, 2018. The Environmental Protection Agency will soon strengthen lead in drinking water regulations. (Paul Sancya / AP)

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