The Environmental Protection Agency is getting close to strengthening its regulation over lead in drinking water, for the first time in decades after a lengthy time simply tabling the issue.
As Fox News reported this week, the EPA first took up the issue of lead in drinking water nearly 40 years ago. At the time, a researcher for the EPA, Ronnie Levin estimated that about 40 million people in the U.S. drank water that contained lead at dangerous levels. As a result, the intelligence of thousands of kids was being degraded.
Adding new regulations at the time was going to prove very complicated and costly, though. So, Levin said, “instead of trying to deal with it substantively, they just tabled it.”
The analysis that Levin’s team did eventually was leaked to media outlets, which ignited a strong response from the public pressuring the agency to do something about it. Rules that they issued at the time have only gone through minor changes since, though.
Now, the EPA wants to do something to bolster them.
Today, there are about 500,000 children in the U.S. who have high levels of lead in their blood, and many experts are saying that lead in their drinking water is one of the most important sources of that.
The EPA hasn’t released specifics of its new plan, but officials say they will soon propose requiring all utilities to actively replace any harmful lead pipes that they use in their systems.
There are about 9.2 million lead pipes currently in operation in the country, and President Joe Biden already has called for all of them to be eliminated. These pipes connect water mains that lie under streets to businesses and homes, and they’re ultimately responsible for much of the lead that ends up seeping into people’s drinking water.
Unfortunately, it’s very expensive to dig up the lead pipes, then lay new pipe and replace any landscaping that was damaged in the process. Homeowners in multiple cities would be expected to have to pay for the portion of the pipes that are on their own property.
Levin, who’s now a teacher at the school of public health at Harvard University, said recently:
“Across the population, this has huge effects.”
The federal government is paying extra attention to lead recently in more areas than just drinking water. New announcements have warned against dangers of lead in aviation fuel. Agencies have also proposed putting in stricter limits on the dust that comes from lead-based paint present in older child-care facilities and homes.
While a lot of hard work has already been done to reduce the amount of lead exposure to kids in the U.S., there are still many that are being exposed to it, and it’s a toxic metal.
Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician who recently became the head of the CDC’s environmental health programs, said:
“The expectation is that a fair amount of that is from lead in water. … [I’m hopeful] that as we remove lead pipes, we’re going to see the numbers continue to fall. And that will be really wonderful.”