EPA under pressure to “get the lead out” of America’s water supply

posted at 10:41 am on February 2, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

The man made disaster that is Flint, Michigan actually comprises a lot more than toxic sludge coming out of the drinking fountains, but that’s where the nation’s focus is at the moment. While the government is hard at work (*cough*) trying to come up with a solution, activists are putting pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to step in and make sure we don’t have this sort of problem anywhere else. (Roll Call)

Now health advocates are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to quickly toughen the protections that states must require of local water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Among the mandates on the table is the eventual and costly replacement of all lead pipes in drinking water systems, rather than just those shown to be an immediate threat to health.

The EPA has been holding talks since 2010 on long-term revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule, last updated in 2007 after two years of deliberations.

We would be remiss in our coverage of this story if we didn’t point out the irony and gallows humor in asking the EPA to do something about this. Given their recent track record of poisoning rivers and failing in nearly everything they get their mitts on, telling them to clean up the nation’s potable water supply is akin to calling in Elmer Fudd to supervise gun safety classes. But as unlikely of a savior the agency may be, this actually is one of the assigned jobs of the EPA under the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. But what new mandates will they be able to reasonably hand down to the states to ensure that we (literally) get the lead out of the water?

Short of replacing everything, I’m told by reliable authorities that lead pipes can have a scale of protective coating built up on their interior surfaces, limiting the amount of lead which leaches into the water. This apparently requires introducing lime or other additives to the water supply and flushing all the standing water out of they system. None of that, however, is as good as replacing the pipes with less toxic building materials.

But just having copper piping available isn’t enough. Almost all homes built up until the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes. Also, many major U.S. cities still rely completely on lead piping to bring water from utilities to homes and public buildings. The EPA has already looked at the wider problem and they know there is no quick fix. (Safe Plumbing)

It is essential to the nation’s health that lead piping systems be upgraded, a task estimated by the EPA in 2003 to cost $276.8 billion and take more than 20 years to achieve. In the meantime, the best protection for the U.S. public is the ongoing testing and monitoring of what makes up our drinking water. The amount of lead and other minerals that actually leach into the water is far more critical than how much is used to manufacture the products that come in contact with the drinking water.

Unfortunately this is yet another problem which deals with the entire “crumbling infrastructure” debate taking place today. Much like the power grid, which needs to be much more flexible and able to isolate vulnerable sections during a wide scale outage, the water lines spread out over wide areas affecting pretty much everyone. But unlike the power lines, it’s the state and municipal governments who own and are responsible for the water lines. The lead pipes eventually need to be replaced entirely, but it’s one of those vastly expensive projects (see the quarter trillion dollar estimate above) which people generally don’t want to think about when there’s still (relatively) potable water coming out of the faucet.

If the EPA jumps in with some sort of reactionary mandate saying every pipe in the nation needs to be fixed in the next five years, they’re going to bankrupt a lot of cities and towns. Thus far they’ve resisted anything that drastic, but with this much of a spotlight on the problem they may change their tune. Far better would be a staged approach where the worst offenders get fixed first, slowly rolling it out from there over a number of decades. And yes, it will probably require some federal funding to support the effort, but it may be one of those things we can’t avoid.

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Comments

EPA under pressure to “get the lead out” of America’s water supply

….can’t do it!…they have lead in their ass!…look at Flint!

JugEarsButtHurt on February 2, 2016 at 10:43 AM

Shovel ready!

JoeHanson on February 2, 2016 at 10:45 AM

This EPA regulation is pay for by the plumbing and construction service industries. Yes, I have become just jaded.

Oil Can on February 2, 2016 at 10:45 AM

Detroit teacher sick-outs
6m
Editor’s note:

The Detroit News reports that Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Darnell Earley will leave the district Feb. 29, according to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Earley has served as the manager of Detroit schools since January 2015, and the district has come under scrutiny as teachers protest potentially unsafe and and unsanitary conditions. Earley also served as the emergency manager of Flint in 2014, during which time the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron water to the Flint River. – Rebecca
End of note
==============

Detroit, MI
3h
FBI joins probe into water lead contamination in Flint, Mich., spokeswoman for US Attorney’s Office in Detroit says – Reuters
End of alert
=============

http://www.breakingnews.com/topic/flint-mich-water-crisis/

canopfor on February 2, 2016 at 10:53 AM

None of that, however, is as good as replacing the pipes with less toxic building materials.

It’s the EPA, they’ll use an even more toxic substitute.

Flange on February 2, 2016 at 10:54 AM

Shovel ready!

JoeHanson on February 2, 2016 at 10:45 AM

Great minds run in the same pipe channels.

AesopFan on February 2, 2016 at 10:54 AM

EPA under pressure to “get the lead out” of America’s water supply

There is no organization more eminently qualified for this job.

Bwwaaahahahahaha!

FlameWarrior on February 2, 2016 at 10:56 AM

JoeHanson on February 2, 2016 at 10:45 AM

Ironically enough, this would at least be something under the proper role of government and could’ve been used as a legitimate project (still phased in, however). Too bad Obama and our politicians were instead focused on lining their cronies’ pockets (…to later fund their campaigns/speeches).

batter on February 2, 2016 at 10:56 AM

LOL, that’s cute. People actually think the single biggest polluter in 2015 does something besides spreading tyranny.

antipc on February 2, 2016 at 10:57 AM

They’re far too busy destroying domestic energy production to do anything constructive about this.

Does anyone seriously trust the EPA to do anything besides make life miserable for everyone?

Hank_Scorpio on February 2, 2016 at 11:02 AM

Will they tell us that leaded water pipes cause global warming?

RblDiver on February 2, 2016 at 11:06 AM

I’m so old I remember when leaded or unleaded referred to our choice in gasoline, not our water.

Flange on February 2, 2016 at 11:09 AM

The EPA is not in the business of fixing things. It’s only function is to regulate and control private citizens and corporations.

jaywemm on February 2, 2016 at 11:14 AM

They’re far too busy destroying domestic energy production to do anything constructive about this.

Does anyone seriously trust the EPA to do anything besides make life miserable for everyone?

Hank_Scorpio on February 2, 2016 at 11:02 AM

Instead of safe drinking water, let’s piss away billions on solar and those ugly wind turbines.

/because, climate change

LashRambo on February 2, 2016 at 11:15 AM

If you have lead pipes in active use in your system, it is silly to worry about using tin/lead solder in copper plumbing in homes. A lead pipe exposes lead to water across its entire length; whereas a properly soldered copper joint exposes only a tiny space near the joint…to a tin/lead ALLOY which tightly bonds the lead.

Why must bureaucrats and politicians be so bereft of judgment, common sense, and a sense of proportion?

landlines on February 2, 2016 at 11:17 AM

It’s coming because it is already here in CA since 2009. No lead to be used in any plumbing. No lead based solder.

California is the left/green weather vane for introducing more and more costly and primarily useless regulation. If it happens in CA it will soon happen at the EPA.

p.s. follow the money. Some people, groups and companies will be making money off of this. They always do.

Neitherleftorright on February 2, 2016 at 11:17 AM

Instead of safe drinking water, let’s piss away billions on solar and those ugly wind turbines.

/because, climate change

LashRambo on February 2, 2016 at 11:15 AM

Maybe the Washington brain trust can come up with a water system which requires a huge federal subsidy and only works when the sun is shining brightly.

landlines on February 2, 2016 at 11:20 AM

This is so unnecessary. Over time, inert materials and contaminants in water (e.g., minerals, as in “hard” water) build up what’s called a biofilm on the interior surface of the pipe. Look at the lip of a faucet you don’t often clean, like in the basement, garage or outside. You’ll see a white or gray mineral deposit coating the interior lip. This biofilm acts as a barrier between the water and the pipe surface. The amount of lead that can or would leach through the biofilm to the flowing water is infinitesimal.

The bigger worry with biofilm is that it’s rough surface catches contaminants and especially particulates, so if it is contaminated, it takes a lot of effort to clear the contaminant, if it is even possible at all.

That’s why Flint should be very worried and the rest of us shouldn’t.

Cricket624 on February 2, 2016 at 11:21 AM

Instead of safe drinking water, let’s piss away billions on solar and those ugly wind turbines.

/because, climate change

LashRambo on February 2, 2016 at 11:15 AM

And batteries! Don’t forget those batteries!

LoganSix on February 2, 2016 at 11:21 AM

If the EPA jumps in with some sort of reactionary mandate saying every pipe in the nation needs to be fixed in the next five years, they’re going to bankrupt a lot of cities and towns.

From the recent years of government “competence”, we might expect to see an ethanol mandate to replace lead in the pipes.

RL on February 2, 2016 at 11:24 AM

landlines on February 2, 2016 at 11:17 AM

Exactly. I was about to post the same thing but you saved me the trouble, thanks.

Bat Chain Puller on February 2, 2016 at 11:31 AM

I hear the EPA has a surplus of awesome water from a river in Colorado.

Nutstuyu on February 2, 2016 at 11:33 AM

EPA IS ASKING THE COUNTRY TO REDO THEIR WATER PIPES AT A HUGE PERSONAL EXPENSE TO AMERICANS SO THAT THE EPA DOESN’T KILL AGAIN.

pwb on February 2, 2016 at 11:38 AM

“it’s the state and municipal governments who own and are responsible for the water lines.” Not quite true, Jazz. The lead service lines (LSLs) that are most of the problem in Flint, and other cities like Milwaukee, are actually owned by the _homeowners_ that the LSLs serve. So there’s going to be a big fight by the homeowners to get somebody else to pay for their problems.

The scariest thing is, sometime in the distant future when all the lead is dug up and replaced, we’ll discover that the replacement plumbing (copper, PVC, unobtainium, whatever) ALSO has some kind of adverse health impact in the parts-per-billion range, and then we’ll have to dig all THAT up too.

quraina on February 2, 2016 at 11:40 AM

The EPA failing in nearly everything they get their mitts on is indicative of the staffing policies for the past quarter century. They have been hiring people who are ideologues and have activist related experience. They need to hire people who have the tech experience and graduate degree educations to deal with civil engineering the handling of toxic chemicals, water works and air quality improvement. Instead they have degrees that have “environmental” in the title. Might as well be “basket weaving” type degrees. This is why the chief basket weaver should step down.

jake49 on February 2, 2016 at 11:40 AM

That’s why Flint should be very worried and the rest of us shouldn’t.

Cricket624 on February 2, 2016 at 11:21 AM

Stop using logic and reason. The EPA doesn’t believe in those attributes. They will lie, cheat and steal, then coerce to do whatever they decide we should do, based on any reason whether proven or not.

Neitherleftorright on February 2, 2016 at 11:43 AM

I’m not sure I understand the thinking behind lead pipes in the first place…we’ve known about the Romans and lead poisoning since, well, Roman times. But yeah, the lead in the solder isn’t going to hurt anyone because as landlines said, it’s an alloy and exposure of it to water averages about a millimeter per foot or less.

James on February 2, 2016 at 11:45 AM

The EPA failing in nearly everything they get their mitts on is indicative of the staffing policies for the past quarter century. They have been hiring people who are ideologues and have activist related experience.

jake49 on February 2, 2016 at 11:40 AM

Welcome to California.

antipc on February 2, 2016 at 11:47 AM

EPA IS ASKING DEMANDING THE COUNTRY TO REDO THEIR WATER PIPES AT A HUGE PERSONAL EXPENSE TO AMERICANS SO THAT THE EPA DOESN’T KILL AGAIN.

pwb on February 2, 2016 at 11:38 AM

Fixed.

GrumpyOldFart on February 2, 2016 at 11:49 AM

Welcome to the Hotel California.

antipc on February 2, 2016 at 11:47 AM

FIFM

antipc on February 2, 2016 at 11:50 AM

Almost all homes built up until the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes

Right! And unless someone shows me conclusive scientific proof to the contrary, the idea that your water could have enough contact with the minimal amount of lead in the solder joints that comprise a negligible portion of your pluming could some even remotely close to raising the lead content of your water to dangerous levels is obnoxiously stupid. Insultingly so.

deadrody on February 2, 2016 at 11:50 AM

I can remember when the city of Dallas replaced the lead pipe used in their water system, back in the ’70s. The lead pipe was used in the connections from the mains running under the streets, to the meters for homes.

Ward Cleaver on February 2, 2016 at 12:00 PM

It’s funny that the stock photo above shows a tee connection of steel pipe, using NPT threads sealed with pipe dope. That’s the predecessor of copper pipe in residential construction.

Ward Cleaver on February 2, 2016 at 12:06 PM

Now health advocates are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to quickly toughen the protections that states must require of local water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

And I’m unable to find in the Constitution where they should have the authority to tell the states what to do within their own boundaries. Period. Regardless of whether Congress “authorizes” it.

GWB on February 2, 2016 at 12:06 PM

deadrody on February 2, 2016 at 11:50 AM

And, if it’s leaching out enough lead to be a hazard, then you also are going to have a leak problem in no time at all. You will have to deal with the leak before you have to deal with any permanent health effects.

GWB on February 2, 2016 at 12:17 PM

p.s. follow the money. Some people, groups and companies will be making money off of this. They always do.

Neitherleftorright on February 2, 2016 at 11:17 AM

What? Have Al Gore and George Soros bought up all the non lead solder companies already?

txdoc on February 2, 2016 at 12:27 PM

Better paying for new pipes than welfare benefits.

Count to 10 on February 2, 2016 at 12:34 PM

Better paying for new pipes than welfare benefits.
Count to 10 on February 2, 2016 at 12:34 PM

Big govt Dems: “Hey, let’s do BOTH!”

Marcola on February 2, 2016 at 12:50 PM

it will probably require some federal funding to support the effort.

Sure – let’s open up the spigots on those huge barrels of “funding” that are stored in government warehouses somewhere.

Oh wait: that’s not how it works, does it?

DarthBrooks on February 2, 2016 at 1:01 PM

What? Have Al Gore and George Soros bought up all the non lead solder companies already?

txdoc on February 2, 2016 at 12:27 PM

Probably, and bought into PVC, construction companies, donated to unions.

Got money?

Neitherleftorright on February 2, 2016 at 1:15 PM

GWB on February 2, 2016 at 12:06 PM

The Constitution? What does that ol rag have to do with anything? Weren’t you paying attention during your education indoctrination?

Neitherleftorright on February 2, 2016 at 1:17 PM

DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!

ncjetsfan on February 2, 2016 at 1:28 PM

Are they really lead pipes? I doubt it. Some lead in joints likely. Water mains have a relatively high flow rate, so any lead going into the water would be minimal.

Dasher on February 2, 2016 at 1:37 PM

Too busy fining people for puddles and water collecting ditches. If it’s wet, it’s a waterway or ecological habitat.

Oxymoron on February 2, 2016 at 1:43 PM

There are a lot of stories about lead pipe in buildings. It is described that copper lines with 50/50 lead solder are in fact lead piping. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nor does it harm you. I started plumbing in 1969 and have only seen one lead fitting which was a toilet stub (sewer line) in a building which was being torn down. Every plumber on the job came over to see it because they had never seen one before. I have never seen or even heard of lead piping being used anywhere in a potable water system. For water mains in the street concrete coated cast iron called “duram” piping was used and lasts over 100 years. Now days if you see large blue piping on a semi it is plastic water main. Think Global Warming scam.

CW20 on February 2, 2016 at 1:43 PM

The only results of pressuring any government agency to do anything are more stupid regulations, more money wasted and higher taxes to support the other two.

Oldnuke on February 2, 2016 at 3:56 PM

If they wouldn’t have drastically lowered the allowable lead concentrations this wouldn’t even be an issue. The existing levels were deemed safe for the last 5 decades but now with lower concentration testing abilities they have set the bar that is impossible to achieve. It will take half a century to remove lead from all the water pipes and there will be absolutely no reduction in health effects. The entire discussion is a ruse to once again take taxpayer dollars and re-distribute it to the political class and professional slugs. The EPA needs to be eliminated as they only operate as a political tool.

trs on February 2, 2016 at 4:23 PM

CW20 on February 2, 2016 at 1:43 PM

Many older cast iron pipes have leaded joints where lead was hammered in to create a water tight joint. Many older service lines were also made out of pure lead pipe. However, in both cases the water lines naturally form mineral deposits on the interior that all but isolate the water from ever coming into contact with the lead joints or pipe. This entire issue is BS from top to bottom. Eliminate the EPA would do far more good for American’s health than eliminating lead pipes.

trs on February 2, 2016 at 4:28 PM

It is described that copper lines with 50/50 lead solder are in fact lead piping.

CW20 on February 2, 2016 at 1:43 PM

And here I was hoping for thousands of miles of solid lead pipe running from the water treatment plant to each and every home…

Reclaiming that lead and repurposing it for the coming civil war seems to be right on target.

Then you tell me it is teamed with copper – excellent, we like copper jackets.

Reuben Hick on February 2, 2016 at 5:14 PM

It’s funny that the stock photo above shows a tee connection of steel pipe, using NPT threads sealed with pipe dope. That’s the predecessor of copper pipe in residential construction.

Ward Cleaver on February 2, 2016 at 12:06 PM

Yes, I was noticing that. In an article about lead in pipes, we see pipes with no lead, and joints without lead (solder).

Actually, there are still some municipal systems (including NYC, I believe) which still have wooden water mains. (Think telephone poles, bored like cannon barrels, with caulked fittings at joints.) Theoretically, they’re even biodegradable! In practice, they’ll last a century or more; and no lead involved.

Sometimes, you get it right the first time…

ReggieA on February 3, 2016 at 3:30 PM