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Published Reports Claims EPA is Hiding True Lead Levels in Drinking Water

APM Reports (from American Public Media) has just released a report on May 4, 2020 that raises some critical questions not only about the quality of the water we are drinking, but the honesty of EPA’s testing program. In a nutshell, they assert that the water industry has prevailed in its attempts to make the water we all drink appear to be safer than it really is. The report can be located at: https://www.apmreports.org/story/2020/05/04/epa-lead-pipes-drinking-water

If this is correct, it is a huge concern for all Americans that have lead in their water. There are many. It’s a really large problem for the nation’s children, who are particularly at risk from lead contamination. I suggest you read it and draw your own conclusions.

The report concerns many buried pipes that convey water to our homes, schools and workplaces. Many of these pipes contain lead and this matters because if the lead is released into the water we will end up ingesting the lead.

It has long been established that lead in drinking water is a national problem, particularly but certainly not only in our cities and most of all it has a very bad impact on the developing brains of small children. For many of them, once impacted there is a lifetime of misery caused by developmental problems associated with lead poisoning and the difficulty of reversing those problems. So many children across this country, including here in New Jersey, are lead exposure victims. For these unfortunate children there may be no turning back at all.

The report from APM Reports makes this startling conclusion: that for many years the US EPA, the agency charged with protecting our drinking water all over this country, “has allowed utilities to use a testing method that doesn’t detect the highest concentrations of lead from these water pipes, a deficiency the agency has long known about.”

Imagine how significant this is if it is correct. The EPA’s primary focus should be the health and wellbeing of all of us. Not the protection of the water utility industry. Yet, in a seemingly convincing and highly supported report, APM Reports asserts that industry lobbying succeeded in its efforts to have the EPA propose drinking water testing standards that it knows dramatically underreport lead concentrations.

The report does not suggest this occurred by accident or through agency oversight. To the contrary the report concludes that EPA allowed industry concerns to trump the health and wellbeing of those of us with lead drinking water problems. Most of all – our very vulnerable young children. If true, we must all ask how this might even be possible.

APM Reports that a new rule amendment by the EPA concerning lead in public drinking water is very flawed based on the following conclusions:

  1. The EPA limit on the allowable amount of lead in drinking water needs to be further reduced by 70% if its going to protect children.
  2. The testing method does not adequately report how much lead leaches from these lead pipes into our water.
  3. An advisory board assembled by the EPA for this issue is reported to have been heavily influenced by public water utilities, which APM Reports factored as a dominant reason as to why the new draft EPA Rule is deficient.
  4. When more rigorous testing was recently employed in Chicago and Michigan, that testing yielded results that found lead in drinking water to be twice as high as reported using the EPA current and draft standards.

According to APM Reports, now while most Americans are justifiably fixated on the coronavirus the federal government is trying to rush through this final rule that the publication asserts is very unprotective. In other words, APM Reports suggests that the federal agency is relying on the public attention on the coronavirus as a kind of cover to adopt this defective drinking water rule without much attention or critical analysis.

The report refers to a 2011 discovery by some EPA researchers that many Americans are likely consuming more lead in the drinking water then had previously been known. While the federal government relies on a 15 parts per billion action level for lead in the drinking water, in other words the level at which some kind of remedial action is required to be undertaken by water suppliers, this level was established because it was considered to be achievable for many utilities. In other words, the EPA is alleged to have set a permissible lead content level based on what the industry can readily accomplish, with little if any attention paid to what really should matter: the impact on health and wellbeing. This accusation by APM Reports is very serious.

One of the highlighted problems concerns the “first liter“rule. Under this rule the EPA requires that utilities test the 1st liter of water drawn from a water faucet after water has sat in plumbing that has been unused for at least six hours.

But according to APM Reports, first liter sampling does not adequately test water that has been in contact with lead pipes. In other words, the EPA proposed test is flawed because it yields results that are not reflective of the water that actually had been exposed to the lead pipes for the six hour period.

As evidence of this, the Report cites to researchers who evaluated 32 households in Chicago and sampled up to 20 liters of water at a time, finding that the lead levels in the first liter were a fraction of what was found closer to the lead containing service lines. In some homes, the researchers found that the samples from inside the lead pipes had more than four times the amount of lead then had been reported using the EPA testing methodology.

The publication alleges that a federal draft proposal which would have required sampling that would yield more accurate results was killed by the EPA and did not make it into the most recent draft rule amendment. They site to an internal study concluding that in order to adequately protect children, the standard in drinking water would have to be reduced to 4.7 ppb, which is a third of the current standard.

APM Reports concludes that it’s all about money. The utilities have successfully lobbied against more stringent testing standards because of a concern that they might be required to do more pipe replacement which could be very costly. This is not insignificant and costs do matter.

But where do the children fit into all of this? If Washington was protecting the water utilities, who was lobbying for our young children?

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