EPA Publishes Updated Lead and Copper Rule

On December 22nd, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced finalization of the revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). The revisions to the LCR are the first in nearly 30 years.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler called the revisions a “critical step in advancing the Trump Administration’s Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures.” The rule will require testing in schools and child care facilities served by community water systems.

The rule will also require all water systems to maintain an inventory of lead service lines and collect tap samples from homes with lead service lines if they're present in the distribution system. That information would be made publicly available. Another provision would ensure that entire, and not partial, lead service lines are replaced. The final rule also institutes a “trigger level” of 10 parts per billion (ppb) at which utilities would be required to consult state regulators about how to prevent corrosion of lead pipes.

Critics of the revisions see the main provisions of the new rule as a rollback that will endanger public health. The new rule would lower the rate of lead pipe removal to 3% annually, down from 7%. Removals are to occur when lead concentrations are found to exceed an “action level” of 15 ppb at more than 10% of taps sampled. The new rate would allow for utilities to replace pipes over up to 33 years, rather than the 14 years under the previous language.

APWA submitted comments on the revisions in February of 2020. In the comments, APWA urged both EPA and Congress to provide substantial funding increases to programs used for lead service line replacement. Current funding levels are insufficient to meet the need of a nationwide lead service line replacement program, the costs of which could balloon to as much as $123 billion.