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EPA updates 'Lead and Copper Rule', critics say 'We can, and must, do better'

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A federal law blamed in part for slowing the response to the Flint water crisis is getting a major revision.

Andrew Wheeler is the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.

During a press conference Tuesday, Wheeler says the updated Lead and Copper Rule, orLCR, will lower the lead contamination level requiring a response and require testing of drinking water in schools and child care facilities.

“The new LCR uses science and best practices to correct shortcomings of the previous rule,” says Wheeler. “And it will help insure that all Americans have access to safe drinking water regardless of what zip code they live in.”

It’s the first major revision to the Lead and Copper Rule in nearly 30 years. 

The state of Michigan updated its own Lead and Copper Rule in 2018.

But environmentalists complain the revised rule will allow lead and galvanized pipes to remain in the nation’s water systems for decades.

“EPA’s rule condemns millions of Americans to drink lead-contaminated water for a generation,” says Eric Olsen, Senior Strategic Director for Health at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“To protect against the scourge of lead poisoning we must remove the six to 10 million lead pipes buried in communities across the country. EPA’s new rule will leave those pipes in use for decades—and in many cases forever,” says Olsen.

EPA officials dispute those claims. They insist the revised Lead and Copper Rule closes loopholes and improves the reliability of sampling results & corrosion control treatment.

The 2014-2015 Flint water crisis shown a light on the shortcomings of the previous federal lead and copper rule. The ill-conceived switch of the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River and improperly treated water led to lead being leeched into the city’s drinking water from aging water service lines.

The city’s water source was switched back to Detroit in 2015. But the damage was done.

Tens of the thousands of city residents were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water. The potential long-term health effects, especially to Flint’s children, are still being assessed.

Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley says the new Lead and Copper Rule is progress, “not perfection.”

“No child should have to overcome the negative impact of lead in their lives” says Neeley.

Since 2016, the city of Flint has been replacing lead and galvanized service lines. 

More than 25,000 service lines have been inspected. More than 10,000 have been replaced.

A city spokeswoman says there are still about 500 water service lines in Flint that need to be inspected. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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