On October 10, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced long-awaited proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The proposed LCR revisions come nearly 30 years after the federal government last updated its lead and copper testing procedures. Originally promulgated in 1991, the LCR has long been criticized for its imprecise language and has come under fire in recent years in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Although LCR revisions have been contemplated since 2010, a major driver behind the current proposal is the Trump Administration’s emphasis on combating children’s exposure to lead as part of EPA’s Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposure. The proposed LCR aims to take a “proactive and holistic approach” to improving current testing standards by introducing a new trigger level that requires more proactive planning in communities with elevated lead exposure, implementing measures to identify high risk areas, and strengthening sampling procedures.

Most significantly, the EPA’s proposed revisions create a new trigger level of 10 parts per billion (ppb). The current LCR uses an action level of 15 ppb and requires water systems to develop lead service line (LSL) replacement plans only after sampling exceeds the action level. Although the proposed revisions retain the 15-ppb action level, the proposed revisions’ new trigger level requires that any water system with an LSL that tests at or above 10 ppb must work with state government officials to develop a plan to replace LSL. In addition, the proposed revisions require systems that exceed the new 10 ppb trigger level to “re-optimize” their corrosion control treatment.

In the proposal, EPA reduces the LSL replacement percentage from 7% to 3% but requires LSL replacement to continue for four consecutive six month monitoring periods regardless of whether sampling is below the action level. Under the current LCR, a system utility can avoid replacing LSLs after documenting two consecutive 6-month monitoring periods with sampling below the action level. The proposal also adds a new requirement for water systems to replace the water-system owned portion of the LSL when a customer elects to replace the customer-owned portion.

Other major changes to the existing LCR include a requirement for a public LSL inventory.  Under the current rule, water systems were required to identify construction materials used in system construction based on historic records, undertake a materials evaluation of their systems to identify LSL to use to meet the sampling requirements of the rule and continue to identify LSL in the course of their normal operations.  Under the proposed LCR, water systems must prepare and large systems must make publicly-available an LSL inventory of all water system-owned and customer-owned LSLs in their distribution systems.  The proposal also significantly changes sampling procedures, including prohibiting flushing, cleaning, or removing faucet aerators prior to sampling. Additionally, the proposal requires increased sampling where sampling identifies high levels of lead.  Finally, for the first time, the proposed LCR revisions require mandatory testing at schools and child care facilities. Water systems will be required to provide the sampling results directly to the schools and child care facilities.

The proposed revisions will be open for public comment for 60 days upon publication in the Federal Register.  A prepublication version of the proposal is available here.