Lawmakers urge the EPA to reduce its standard for lead in drinking water
A letter signed by 61 members of Congress urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lower the federal standard for lead in drinking water so that it better reflects the latest science on the brain-damaging toxin. The aim is to better protect the public, members of Congress said.
"There is lead in the water supply...The threshold needs to be lowered so we don't put children at risk like we're now putting children at risk," said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-N.J., a lead signer along with Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., D-NJ; Elise Stefanik, R-NY; and Dan Kildee, D-MI. "This is a health issue in the United States."
A water system now exceeds the lead standard – or “action level” -- when more than 10% of water samples collected show lead levels above 15 parts per billion. Water systems must then take action to reduce contamination.
Thursday's letter – signed by 59 Democrats and two Republicans -- calls for reducing that number to 10 parts per billion, in line with World Health Organization guidelines for lead contamination.
“The current lead action level was developed in 1991 based on the practical feasibility at that time of reducing lead through controlling corrosion,” says the letter, which was sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Corrosion control technologies and our understanding of the negative impacts of lead at low doses have advanced significantly since that time.”
Doctors and federal health officials agree there's no safe level of lead, which can cause all sorts of health problems. Babies and children are at greatest risk, and can suffer lowered IQ, behavior problems and developmental delays.
EPA officials say plumbing materials that contain the toxin make the agency’s goal of zero lead unreachable. Regulations are meant to help water systems reduce the likelihood of lead contamination by requiring those with problems to control corrosion and reduce lead in tap water “to the extent feasible."
Thursday’s letter acknowledged this, saying, “While we understand the action level does not represent a health based standard, it is an important tool for triggering public notification and other actions to reduce the public’s exposure to lead drinking water contamination.”
A USA TODAY Network investigation in March focused on lead contamination in public water systems and found nearly 2,000 systems across the nation with excessive lead levels from 2012 through 2015. The systems reporting lead levels above EPA standards supply water to about 6 million people, and about 350 of those systems serve schools and day cares.
The EPA is currently revising the federal Lead and Copper Rule. EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee said the agency has received Thursday's letter and is reviewing it.
“Leadership by the EPA is essential to improving the effectiveness of corrosion control treatments and other actions needed to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water,” the letter says. “While we understand this cannot be achieved by EPA regulation alone, we must put strong regulations in place to protect the public’s health and ensure that our drinking water is safe.”