The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is in the midst of revising the federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). The intent of the 25-year-old regulation – detecting “worst case” levels of lead in water in U.S. homes and mitigating effectively extensive contamination – has never been realized.
First and foremost, this is because sampling of water sitting in lead pipes was never required. If such sampling were required, it is estimated that water utilities in 70% of U.S cities with lead service lines would exceed the LCR lead standard, and residents in those cities would be urged to take urgent precautions to protect themselves and their families from exposure to lead in their drinking water. In other words, millions of consumers who are currently being told that their water is safe, are drinking and cooking with water that routinely dispenses high concentrations of lead.
Over the years, entities like the MDEQ have also added “extra” steps to the LCR sampling protocol that effectively “miss” high lead-in-water problems when they are present. In Flint, these steps still include:
- Use of bottles with tiny openings, so that consumers cannot sample at normal flow rates, which is necessary for detecting lead particles from lead pipes
- Use of a 5 minute “pre-flush” or “pre-cleaning” of pipes the night before sampling, which temporarily “cleans out” a home’s plumbing system from lead and results in lead-in-water measurements that underestimate actual problems.
Incredibly, despite the fact that Flint’s lead-in-water monitoring scheme: a) failed to target “worst case” levels of lead in water and sampled many homes without any lead plumbing, and b) involved a sampling protocol known to underestimate lead release, the 71 samples that the City of Flint submitted to MDEQ still failed to meet the LCR. The reason Flint’s water was declared in compliance with federal standards was because MDEQ took extra steps in violation of the LCR. Namely, it threw out two of the high lead-in-water values, and another valid lead sample from the home of Lee-Anne Walters was also not counted. What this means is that if MDEQ and the City of Flint were to implement the LCR as it was intended, the results of the sampling would be staggering.
I have worked with Dr. Lambrinidou, founder of Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives and affiliate member of the Science and Technology Studies program at Virginia Tech, on lead-in-water problems in many cities. What we have witnessed with grave concern is that even when States and utilities are caught red-handed – cheating on consumer tap sampling or falsifying reports of results – the U.S. EPA looks the other way or even helps the agencies to harm large population. The links below provide news reports on one illustrative example from the City of New Orleans:
Dr. Lambrinidou served on the U.S. EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) LCR work group, which was convened in 2014 to issue recommendations to U.S. EPA for how the LCR should be revised to better protect the public’s health. Her dissenting opinion explains the serious problems the work group’s final report and recommendations. The EPA workgroup’s 15 active members included 5 water utility employees representing larger water industry lobbying groups and associations (i.e., American Water Works Association, National Association of Water Companies, National Rural Water Association, and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies), and Dr. Lambrinidou was invited to the work group only after she and her colleague Paul Schwartz with the Water Alliance protested the work group’s industry-heavy composition. Had this not happened, the workgroup would not have included even one single member of the public with significant first-hand experience with a) the LCR, b) its (mis-)implementation by water utilities across the country, and c) its real-world impact on U.S. consumers.
FLINTWATERSTUDY believes that anyone who wants to make sure that another Flint does not happen, should carefully consider Dr. Lambrinidou’s dissenting opinion, which attempts to make sure that the original intent of the LCR is finally realized. In just about one week, the U.S. EPA NDWAC will meet in Washington, DC to review and make final decisions about the NDWAC LCR work group’s recommendations. Here’s the announcement in the Federal Register: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-11-02/pdf/2015-27883.pdf
Dr. Lambrinidou’s Dissenting Opinion on the upcoming LCR long-term revisions:
Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards
Acknowledgements: Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou