EPA Cracks Down on Lead in Drinking WaterMar 7, 2005 | AP
Stricter monitoring and reporting of problems with lead in drinking water will be required of utilities, states, schools and child care facilities, the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday.
EPA officials said they found few such problems nationally but were moving to impose stricter requirements in lead and copper regulations, starting early next year, because of lead in drinking water found in 2002 in the Washington area.
Those problems gained widespread attention two years later, and residents complained that the city had done little to alert them. The existing regulations date to 1991.
In separate developments, the EPA, the Justice Department and Illinois announced Monday that Illinois Power Co., operating as AmerenIP, will install $500 million in pollution controls at five coal-fired power plants. Its former owner, Dynegy Midwest Generation, Inc., will pay for the new controls along with a a $9 million fine and $15 million in other improvements to settle a federal lawsuit alleging Clean Air Act violations.
The EPA was criticized Monday by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm. GAO, echoing criticism of the EPA from its inspector general last month, said the agency hadn't weighed all the costs and benefits that it should have before issuing a new rule next week to cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants. Twenty-nine senators, mostly Democrats, said the reports showed that the Bush administration had ignored "sound science." EPA officials said it was premature to criticize a rule that is not yet finished.
Regarding lead in water, the EPA proposes that utilities better control corrosion in pipes and notify states at least 60 days before making changes in treatment. Utilities also would notify residents of any testing within a home or facility. Lead service lines that don't meet requirements would be re-examined after any major changes to drinking water treatment.
Also being updated is the agency's 1994 guidance on testing for lead in schools' drinking water.
Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA's assistant administrator for water, noted that the Safe Drinking Water Act makes cost a secondary concern to protecting public health. "This plan will increase the accuracy and consistency of monitoring and reporting, and it ensures that where there is a problem, people will be notified and the problem will be dealt with quickly and properly," he said.
Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio, who chairs a House Energy subcommittee on the environment, praised the EPA for following up on its promises to his panel last July but cautioned the agency still "has a great deal of work ahead to develop the specifics" before it can take action.
"Though it is frustrating that D.C. area residents have had to endure the horror and uncertainty of the very high levels of lead in their drinking water, I am relieved to now know that the EPA does not believe the problems uncovered in the Washington metro area are a harbinger of a national problem," Gillmor said.
The EPA's regulations, which affect both lead and copper in drinking water, also are intended to improve management of lead service lines and customer awareness of any problems.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was in rare disagreement Monday with President Bush. Inhofe said he was disappointed that Bush's budget proposal for 2006 would reduce by one-third the low-interest loans to states for water quality protection and decrease by 83 percent spending on replacing aging water treatment facilities and pipes.
In a letter to Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Inhofe said the nation "is truly on the verge of a crisis. Systems are aging and regulatory costs are increasing. The Congress simply must do its part to meet these rising costs."
Lead is a highly toxic metal used for years in many household products. Pregnant women and infants are the most vulnerable to lead, which can cause kidney and brain damage and, in some cases, death.
The EPA said its review shows current regulations are adequately protecting more than 96 percent of water systems that serve 3,300 people or more. In the past three years, the agency said, there have been 14 water systems serving more than 50,000 people that exceeded EPA's drinking water lead standard.