Senseless EPA Plans to Roll Back Protections Against Lead Contamination

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After Scott Pruitt, the first EPA administrator, declared a ‘war on lead,’ the administration has packaged a dangerous overhaul of lead regulations in what misleadingly appears to be advanced safety precautions. On Thursday, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the agency’s plans to rewrite 1991 lead contamination rules, giving authorities more time to replace lead-leaching pipes. This comes in stark contrast to previous rhetoric from the administration, which claimed that combating lead poisoning in the wake of the Flint and Newark crises was a priority.

Currently, water systems with lead levels above 15 parts per billion must replace seven percent of their pipes each year until the levels return to a healthy mark. The administration’s proposal requires the replacement of just three percent of pipes when unhealthy lead levels are detected.

The rewrite will lengthen lead pipe replacement processes by 20 years, leaving untold more people vulnerable to lead poisoning. As many as six million lead pipes are still being used to carry water to residents across the U.S. Lead, a potent neurotoxin, can cause developmental delays in children, as well as stomach issues and abnormal behavior. There is no safe level of lead consumption.

The new proposal is more stringent in some areas, but stops short of replacing six million water pipes at risk of leaching lead, an expensive proposal that public health officials said was necessary to prevent further contamination crises. Instead, it gives local and state governments more time to replace even the most dangerous pipes.

The proposed regulations include more restrictive lead level standards for schools and daycare centers, as well as require customers to be notified of elevated levels within 24 hours. Water utilities must make the locations of their lead pipes publicly known. However, activists and environmentalists claim that these new standards won’t help avoid lead crises due to concurrent rollbacks.