Driven by the 1986 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA adopted the Lead and Copper Rule in 1991. The LCR established a treatment technique for compliance that includes:
- Requirements for corrosion control treatment;
- Lead service line replacement, and
- Public education.
The treatment technique requirements are triggered by lead and copper “action levels” measured in samples collected at consumers’ taps.
EPA specified minimum sampling requirements and established an “action level” of 0.015 mg/L for lead and 1.3. mg/L for copper based on 90th percentile level of required compliance monitoring values.
These samples are “first-draw” samples that must be taken from customer’s taps after at least 6 hours of stagnation. Importantly, an action level exceedance is not a violation but a trigger for other rule requirements, including public education, establishing optimized corrosion control, source water monitoring and treatment, and in some instances. lead service line replacement.
Minor Revisions of 2000
While these revisions are known as the “minor revisions”, a number of substantial changes were made from the 1991 rule, including:
- Requirements for monitoring for lead and copper samples at the tap once every 3 years and compliance with the copper action level, when a system is deemed to have optimized corrosion control because there is little or no corrosion occurring in their distribution system.
- Requirements that when systems replace lead service lines they are to:
- Replace the portion of the lead service line that they own.
- Notify residents of the potential for temporary increases in lead levels and measures they can take to reduce lead levels if the system replaces only that part of a lead service line that it owns.
- Authority for states to invalidate tap samples under certain circumstances.
- Requirements that systems on reduced monitoring report to the state primacy agency any changes in treatment or the addition of a new water source.
Revisions of 2007
Beginning in 2004, EPA undertook a substantial review of current rule implementation. This review encompassed:
- Collecting LCR compliance data from states and assessing rule implementation,
- A series of expert workshops on the technical issues underpinning implementation – simultaneous compliance, sampling protocols, public education, lead service line replacement, and lead in plumbing fittings and fixtures.
- A meeting on lead in schools and childcare facilities.
- A National Drinking Water Advisory Council Working Group on Public Education.
The review culminated in numerous activities. Of particular note, the Water Research Foundation built on the expert workshop discussion to develop an extensive research program to fill high priority information gaps. The discussion of lead in plumbing fittings and fixtures also served as the starting point for discussion of AB1953 in California, which re-defined lead-free; associated revisions of NSF standards; and implementation of P.L. 111-380, the 2011 law that toughened the definition of "lead-free" plumbing.
Two rulemaking activities also emerged from the National Review:
- Revisions published in October 2007
- Ongoing Long-Term LCR revisions.
The 2007 revisions were focused on readily implementable changes that would address observations made during the national review based on the available information. Changes included:
- Additional requirements for an educational statement about lead in drinking water be included in all Consumer Confidence Reports.
- Changed notification of state primacy agency of anticipated changes in treatment or source water that could increase corrosion of lead from simply notification to prior notice and approval.
- Changed definition of monitoring and compliance periods to require all compliance samples be taken within the same calendar year.
- Required water systems above the lead action level to return to standard monitoring if they are on a reduced monitoring schedule.
- Added flexibility and improved the readability of required public education language.
- Expanded public education material delivery strategies to better reach consumers and disseminate information to at-risk populations.
Under the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (PDF) enacted in 2011, it will be illegal in the United States as of Jan. 4, 2014, to use pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings or fixtures that come into contact with drinking water that do not meet the new definition of lead free. This legislation changes the definition of “lead-free” to <0.25% lead, and any new meters, pipe saddles, etc., that are installed have to meet this new definition as well as any parts that are used in repairs.
EPA is developing regulatory language to implement the law, and a proposed rule is expected in 2016.
In response to strong interest in the Agency providing guidance interpreting P.L. 111-380, EPA prepared “frequently asked questions" (PDF) releasing them on May 21, 2013, for comment. These FAQs are intended to assist a broad cross-section of stakeholders including states, water systems, plumbing product manufacturers, distributors and plumbers. The document expresses EPA’s interpretation of the statutory requirements at the time of publication. AWWA and more than 80 others commented on the draft FAQ. The updated final FAQ (PDF) was released in December 2013.
On December 20, 2013, President Obama signed H.R. 3588, the "Community Fire Safety Act of 2013" into law. The Community Fire Safety Act of 2013 exempts fire hydrants from SDWA lead level standards for pipes, fittings, fixtures, solder, and flux.
As of January 2014, all water systems had to be in compliance with the law even though there are not implementing regulations. In addition to the FAQs provided by EPA systems have (1) information provided by their state, (2) past practice (e.g., implementation of the initial lead ban), and (3) best professional judgment as guides. Compliance steps can include:
- Updating existing procurement processes,
- Utilizing inventory control mechanisms,
- Revising maintenance practices,
- Revising installation and construction specifications, and
- Implementing internal controls.
The law's provisions also apply to plumbers, homeowners and others engaged in installing and repairing plumbing. Consequently the primary implementation mechanism will be revision of state and local plumbing codes and code enforcement practices.
Local drinking water systems will play a role locally in informing the revision of these codes and educating the public about the law's requirements. For information about changes in state plumbing codes, contact your AWWA section or the state agency that oversees the state plumbing code.
Related national standards are also being revised that address demonstrating compliance with the new definition of lead-free.
Both the National Drinking Water Advisory Council and the EPA Science Advisory Board have recommended that additional steps be taken to reduce risk associated with lead service line (LSL) replacement.
NDWAC recommended (PDF) that EPA:
- Not require either partial or full LSL replacement under the Revised LCR.
- Issue guidance on the possible negative health impacts related to compliance with the current LSL-replacement provisions of the LCR.
- Suspend enforcement of the LSL-replacement requirement.
- Investigate mitigation strategies for lead exposure via household piping.
- Include provisions in Revised LCR for notification of the homeowner if an LSL is repaired or replaced for any reason,
- Not require homeowner sampling after LSL replacement in the Revised LCR; rather, EPA should provide guidance for enhanced distribution system monitoring related to corrosion control at some point in the future.
The SAB conclusions (PDF) were focused on partial LSL replacement and focused on the following points:
- Weight of evidence indicates that partial LSL replacement often causes tap water lead levels to increase significantly for a period of days to weeks, or even several months.
- Available research is insufficient to determine what steps are appropriate to reduce the duration and magnitude of lead release following a partial LSR replacement.
As USEPA prepares proposed long-term revisions to the LCR, the agency is considering how to best address this aspect of lead release. In presentations to stakeholders, the agency has raised several important questions:
- Should the at-the-tap LCR compliance sampling for lead be revised to focus more on lead service lines?
- Should community water systems be responsible for removing the entire LSL regardless of ownership?
- Should the LCR include risk management requirements for routine practices that result in partial LSL replacements?
In 2005 AWWA prepared a guide for water systems (PDF) seeking to assist customers remove the portion of a LSL line that they own.
Lead is a naturally occurring metal that was used regularly in a number of industrial capacities for most of the 20th century. It was used as a component of paint, piping (including drinking water service lines), solder, brass and as a gasoline additive until the 1980's.
According to the EPA, lead paint and contaminated dust and soil are the leading household sources of lead exposure. the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extensive resources on lead toxicity and prevention activities.
Research has confirmed that lead is highly toxic. Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body.
The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children, and pregnant women.
Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead more than healthy adults. Lead is stored in the bones, and it can be released later in life. During pregnancy, the fetus receives lead from the mother's bones, which may affect brain development.
In May 2012 the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it will redefine the level at which children are considered to have too much lead in their blood. The current “level of concern” is 10 μg/dL. The revised value would be 5 μg/dL and be revised on a four-year cycle. The new reference value is based on the 97.5th percentile blood lead level in children 1-5 years old and is intended to focus action on those children with the highest blood lead levels.
This action follows recommendations of the Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, a federal advisory committee which advices CDC’s lead poisoning prevention programs. It also coincides with a 2012 cut in US lead poisoning prevention programs to less than 7% of previous funding levels.
CDC’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program staff explains in a supplement to the Aug. 10, 2012, issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report why CDC does not consider any level of lead to be safe and makes the case for additional attention to lead in water particularly where there are lead service lines. Health Canada is also concerned about lead from all routes of exposure and is providing information on routes of exposure and associated risk.
AWWA’s Public Communications Toolkit provides water utilities information pertinent to communication about lead to the public.
While human health issues associated with lead oftentimes result in a strong focus on lead levels in water, elevated copper levels also pose a health risk. The CDC cites gastrointestinal symptoms as the most common effect of elevated copper exposure. Individuals with Wilson’s Disease are more sensitive to copper toxicity and can suffer liver damage.
AWWA prepared a background document, Assisting Schools and Child Care Facilities in Addressing Lead in Drinking Water (PDF, 1.7MB), for public water systems in 2005. This document provides drinking water suppliers with information and tools they may use to assist school and child care administrators in addressing lead in drinking water.
It summarizes the Lead Contamination Control Act guidance and the Lead and Copper Rule requirements and highlights distinguishing differences between the two. The document describes the steps school systems and day-child care facilities may take to effectively manage lead levels in the water supplies in their facilities.
The level of lead in schools remain a continuing concern. With this concern AWWA joined with EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Education and other partners in the drinking water community in a memorandum of understanding to work collaboratively to facilitate actions that reduce children’s exposure to lead from drinking water at schools and child care facilities.
Lead and copper are seldom found in drinking water source waters. Lead contamination almost always occurs after water has left the treatment plant and moves through the distribution system piping into household plumbing containing lead.
Water is naturally corrosive, and in some cases, can corrode the pipes and plumbing. This corrosion can also occur in home fixtures such as faucets. If these fixtures are made of brass, which typically contains some lead, the fixtures can add dissolved lead to the drinking water.
Brass fixtures and lead-based solder used in home plumbing prior to 1986 are significant sources of lead exposure in drinking water. Grounding of electrical circuits in homes to water pipes and galvanic action between two dissimilar metals may increase corrosion that could cause lead to leach into the water. Customers who soften their water or otherwise change its corrosivity can affect the lead content of the water.
Water systems use corrosion control to protect the pipes in their distribution systems and the plumbing inside homes and buildings. From a regulatory perspective, effective corrosion control is one important element in preventing elevated lead levels at customer’s taps.
In 1986, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to ban the use of pipe, solder or flux containing lead and ordered EPA to require specific public notification about the presence of lead in its drinking water or drinking water system. In 1986 “lead-free” plumbing materials were defined as having less than 8% lead. Congress revised the standard for lead-free in 2011 to less than 0.25% lead and modified how this percentage is calculated.