Pittsburgh, PA – Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a virtual community roundtable in Pittsburgh on revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule. The revisions include changes in six major aspects of this complex regulation, some of which have been under discussion since EPA undertook this process more than a decade ago while others are informed by newer information about lead health effects and the occurrence of lead in drinking water across the country. Pittsburgh’s selection as one of ten sites across the country was thanks to a joint application submitted by Women for a Healthy Environment (WHE) and Clean Water Action.
"EPA should learn from Pittsburgh's experience with our lead crisis that we can get lead out of our drinking water systems. With broadly popular proposals like the $45 billion in the American Jobs Plan to help remove lead service lines, this is our chance to finally end this threat to safe drinking water. EPA needs to ensure that new rules make environmental justice a priority, so that communities of color and low income neighborhoods are not left out again from our efforts," stated Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania Director for Clean Water Action.
“Today was an opportunity to hear from many perspectives across the region who emphasized opportunities to strengthen the existing Lead and Copper Rule and proposed revisions to the rule that would make Pittsburgh and all communities in the US safer. We need to ensure that regulations put the health of the community at the forefront of all decision-making and that a financial investment is made in our water systems, especially since we know that children in communities of color are disproportionately impacted by lead poisoning in Allegheny County. Emphasis should be placed on committing to replace lead service lines over the next ten years, prohibit all partial lead service line replacements and ensure an action level or maximum contaminant level is truly health protective and based on science,” said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, Executive Director at Women for a Healthy Environment.
During their community presentation, WHE and Clean Water Action offered general support for the steps being taken to revise and improve the Lead and Copper Rule. However, they also urged EPA to go further by:
- requiring utilities to not just find lead service lines, but fully replace them,
- making it clear that partial line replacement should be prohibited,
- conducting an environmental justice analysis as part of rule making,
- ensuring there’s dedicated financial support for smaller water systems,
- lowering system wide lead action levels to reflect health harms,
- establishing a Maximum Contaminant Level,
- optimizing corrosion controls,
- implementing filter first programs in child-occupied facilities, and
- conducting comprehensive public education.
The organizations’ collaboration also resulted in developing an agenda that brought together 20 additional participants, including elected officials, water systems, water experts from academia, local residents, community groups and environmental organizations. The participants were selected with an emphasis on those who could share valuable perspectives and experiences from their work on the issue locally within impacted communities as well as environmental justice communities.
"Clean water has long been Pittsburgh's most precious resource — and as recent history shows, is not one we can take for granted. While we have made great strides in addressing the lead crisis there is still a long way to go, and it will take further collaborations like this one to provide safe and clean water to generations of Americans to come," Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said.
“Addressing a problem as big as testing and replacing lead pipes in our water systems takes cooperation across all levels of government, as well as open dialogue between government and our impacted communities,” said State Senator Wayne Fontana. “Today’s EPA roundtable presents a unique opportunity for the citizens of Pittsburgh and I am honored to take part.”
“Duquesne doesn’t have the financial means on our own let alone the ability to even match grants or the needed trained staff to address lead issues on our own, yet lead levels in children are at 7% within the community,” said Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby. “We need outside support to help protect the health of our communities.”
“Small water authorities across the nation want to replace lead lines and do what is best for their residents. But we often struggle to find ways to make it financial feasible without being forced to take out loans that saddle us with debt or when we often don’t qualify for certain grants because of our size,” said Lori Rue with the Braddock Water Authority.
“As someone who works directly with children I’ve seen firsthand the side effects of children being exposed to lead and I know the challenge of helping parents understand the dangers, '' stated Fredericka Morgan, owner of the Douglas Academy. “We’re not technical experts and need the government to make a greater commitment to conducting expanding public education, especially in low income communities.”
Pittsburgh’s drinking water crisis arose from a substantial increase in the lead concentration of the city's water supply in 2016. Since then great strides have been made at Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to ensure transparency, improve water quality and become a national leader in replacing lead service lines effectively, safely and equitably. But there are 35 additional community water systems that service sections of the City of Pittsburgh as well as communities across Allegheny County. According to WHE’s recent “Something’s in the Water'' report, 80% of these systems had detectable levels of lead in their 2019 Consumer Confidence Reports. Yet most of these smaller systems have not begun the process of replacing lead services lines let alone inventorying them, but the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions would push them to make it a priority.
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Since the organization’s founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking, and people power to the table. www.cleanwater.org