Critical to transparency and accelerating lead pipe replacement

Tom Neltner, JD, is the director of chemicals policy

This is the second in a series of blogs assessing various aspects of the EPA’s December 2020 revision of the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and what they do to expedite lead service line replacement ( LSL) can mean. The blogs cover: 1) new inventory of service lines; 2) three new LSL messages; 3) impact on environmental justice; 4) communicating the health effects of lead; 5) economic impact; and 6) sample and trigger / action levels.

Note that President Biden’s Executive Ordinance on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Manage the Climate Crisis instructs authorities to review the rules and actions of the previous government, including the Guiding and Copper Rule.

Three new cues required in the revised LCR of Water Systems for those with known or potential LSL provide important opportunities to build public support for LSL replacement by helping individuals identify their situation and the specific actions they are taking should take to understand better. However, we understand that, like all communications, many people may simply ignore them, especially if they are only supplied as an attachment to a monthly or quarterly invoice. We believe announcements are most effective when coupled with broader efforts and requirements that property owners share the announcement with potential buyers and tenants.

As explained in a previous blog about the new service line inventories, water systems must classify all service lines into one of four categories. The rule treats three categories – “Lead”, “Galvanized in need of replacement”, and “Lead Status Unknown” – as known or potential service lines that contain lead. Individuals receiving water from a utility in any of these three categories will be required to receive three new types of notifications prompting them to take action to address the risk of lead in their drinking water in accordance with 40 CFR § 141.85 (e) through (g) . . The three types of communications are:

  1. An annual notice;
  2. An indication of a fault in the service line; and
  3. A notice when the trigger or action levels have been exceeded.

Annual notification for customers and persons who are served by a service line that is or can be an LSL

Beginning January 2024, water systems must send an annual notification to anyone served by a service line that is either “Lead,” “Galvanized in need of replacement,” or “Lead status unknown” based on the service line inventory. New customers – usually those buying an existing home – need to be notified when the service starts. The notice will be sent by post or any other means approved by the state. Table 1 contains the required content for each type of notice.

The three different types of annual communications vary depending on the category of service line material. Those who are served by non-line service lines do not need to be notified (even if they may have a connection for line pipes). If a system has only non-executive service lines, no notification is required.

Table 1. Three variations of annual announcements based on service line material

Content in the note To lead* Galvanized that needs to be replaced Unknown lead status
Status of the person’s service line Service management is carried out. The service line is galvanized and must be replaced. The service line material is unknown, but it may be lead.
Mandatory statement on the health effects of lead “Health Effects of Lead. Exposure to lead in drinking water can have serious health effects in all age groups. Infants and children may have a decrease in IQ and attention span. Lead exposure can lead to new learning and behavior problems or exacerbate existing learning and behavior problems. Children of women exposed to lead before or during pregnancy may be at increased risk for these adverse health effects. Adults may be at increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or nervous system problems. “
Steps a person can take Steps that service providers can take to reduce lead exposure in drinking water.
Additional information Ways to replace LSL. Ways to check the material of the service line.
The water system must replace its part of an LSL if the owner notifies it that it will replace its part of the LSL.
Programs that provide financing solutions to help property owners replace their part of an LSL.
* Usually refers to it as “Verified LSL”.

The rule states that the notice is addressed to “people who are served by the water system at the service connection”, but does not contain any further information. Presumably this refers to anyone who drinks the water, including local residents, employees, and customers of companies on the property. We anticipate the EPA will provide scope guidance as 2024 approaches.

Indication of a fault in a service line that is or can be an LSL

From March 2024, water systems must notify people who are operated by a service line if the system causes a fault on a service line “Lead”, “Galvanized Requiring Replacement” or “Lead Status Unknown” (based on the Service Line Inventory) that the water to a single supply line is shut off or bypassed. Malfunctions include activities such as closing a valve in the service line or setting a measuring device.

The notice must contain information about the potential for increased lead levels in drinking water as a result of the disturbance and instructions for a flushing procedure to remove lead. The notification must be given before the line is put back into service.

If the malfunction involves the replacement of an in-line water meter, water meter setter, gooseneck, pigtail, or connector, the water system must also provide:

  • Materials for public education[1] This includes a binding declaration on the health effects of lead for an LSL (see Table 1).
  • A pitcher filter or point-of-use device certified by an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited certifier to reduce lead, instructions on how to use the filter, and six months of filter replacement cartridges.

There are additional requirements if the water system is performing a partial or full LSL replacement.

Be aware when the lead trigger or action levels are exceeded

As of March 2024, water systems that exceed a trigger level of 10 ppb or an action level of 15 ppb based on the 90th percentile of tap water monitoring must give a special notice to people being served by a “lead”: “Galvanized Requiring Replacement”. Service Line “or” Lead Status Unknown “(based on the inventory of the service line). This notice must be delivered within 30 days of the end of the sampling period and describe the LSL exchange program of the water system and the possibilities for the LSL exchange. This notice supplements other more general notices to the community and those whose tap water was high in lead.

Our recommendations

The three new service line notices provide important ways to speed up the LSL exchange when combined with broader contact efforts and requirements that property owners pass on to potential buyers and tenants.

To ensure that the new requirements drive the replacement forward, we recommend:

  • Water systems should begin the announcement phase immediately, beginning with those who have confirmed LSLs (“lead” or “galvanized to be replaced”) and move on to the “lead status unknown” service lines. The announcements should be combined with broader public relations.
  • States and municipalities should require owners to provide prospective buyers and renters with the annual or new customer notification. Some have already acted, but more is needed.
  • EPA and states should provide guidance, technical support, and templates to water systems so they can begin delivering notices and complement efforts with public information on EPA and state LCR websites.

[1] Public teaching materials must be submitted to the state prior to delivery.

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