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EPA Revises Lead and Copper Rule for the First Time in Three Decades

On December 22, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) finalized long-anticipated revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule—the first major revision since the rule was promulgated in 1991. While the final rule maintains the current lead “action level” of 15 parts per billion (“ppb”) and “maximum contaminant level” goal of zero, it also includes a variety of other revisions that will significantly impact water systems across the nation.

Enhanced Focus on Identifying and Addressing Homes with Lead Service Lines

A major driver behind EPA’s effort to revise the Lead and Copper rule has been identifying and remediating high-risk homes, and in particular, those served with a lead service line (“LSL”). EPA’s final rule thus requires all water systems prepare, and update, LSL inventories. EPA also introduces a requirement to “find and fix” sources of lead in any individual home where a test demonstrates lead levels in excess of 15 ppb. When the “fix” is outside of the water system’s control, documentation must be provided to the state. The final rule further modifies tap sampling procedures and the criteria for selecting homes for sampling to prioritize homes served by LSLs.

Greater Transparency

The final rule also aims to increase transparency by requiring that systems serving greater than 50,000 people post LSL inventories on a publicly-accessible Internet site. In a departure from its initial proposal, EPA reduced the threshold required for water systems to publish their inventory online from 100,000 to 50,000 persons. In addition, the final rule mandates annual notices by water systems to homeowners with LSLs. Certain systems that fail to reach their LSL replacement requirements for a given year must conduct additional outreach in the following year, such as through a townhall meeting. And when any individual tap sample exceeds the lead action level of 15 ppb, systems are now required to notify consumers at the site within 24 hours of learning of the result (instead of the current 30 days).

New Lower “Trigger” for Corrosion Control and Lead Service Line Replacement Actions

The final rule makes changes to the requirements for corrosion control, most notably by establishing a new “trigger” level of 10 ppb. The trigger level is not a health-based standard. At this trigger level, systems that currently treat for corrosion are required to re-optimize their existing treatment, while systems that do not currently treat for corrosion must conduct a corrosion control study. Per EPA’s final rule, water systems must also now conduct outreach and initiate LSL replacement programs when lead levels are above the proposed trigger level of 10 ppb. The final rule requires systems that are above 10 ppb, but at or below 15 ppb, to work with their state to set an annual goal for LSL replacement. Systems that are above the action level of 15 ppb must replace a minimum of three percent of LSLs annually based upon a two-year rolling average.

Testing of Schools and Childcare Centers

EPA’s final rule requires that systems annually test drinking water in 20% of elementary schools and childcare centers in their service areas for a period of five years, and upon request in secondary schools (and elementary schools and childcare centers following the initial five year mandatory testing period). Water systems must provide the results of these tests and information about the actions the school or childcare facility can take to reduce lead in drinking water.

Beveridge & Diamond’s Water and Litigation practice groups develop creative, strategically tailored solutions to issues that arise under the Safe Drinking Water Act, including under the Lead and Copper Rule. The firm’s attorneys have represented multiple large municipalities in major litigation over lead in drinking water, including citizen suit, toxic tort, and class action defense. For more information, please contact the authors.