EPA tackles lead levels in tap water

A plan to strengthen existing requirements for water utilities and states to test for and reduce lead in drinking water has been initiated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Lead is highly toxic and can have serious health implications, especially for young children, even when found at low levels in tap water

Lead is highly toxic and can have serious health implications, especially for young children, even when found at low levels in tap water

Following extensive analysis and assessment of current implementation of these regulations, the "Drinking Water Lead Reduction Plan" will tighten monitoring, treatment, lead service line management and customer awareness, as well as addressing lead in tap water at schools and childcare facilities in order to further protect vulnerable populations.

"We need to free people from worrying about lead in their drinking water," EPA spokesman Ben Grumble stated. "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 that problem will be dealt with quickly and properly."

Even at low levels, lead can have a range of negative effects on health, including behavioural problems and learning disabilities. Children under six are most at risk because this is when the brain is developing.

The primary source of lead exposure for most children comes from lead-based paints used to decorate older homes, but lead levels found in drinking water also add to that exposure.

Because virtually all lead enters water after it leaves the main system to enter individual homes and buildings, the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) requires utilities to test water at the tap as individual homes have different levels of lead in their water due to the condition of pipes, plumbing materials and various other factors.

Customer awareness and education already play a big part of the LCR, but the EPA has now proposed regulatory changes to come into force by 2006 that will improve the way that the water is monitored and treated, as well as providing customers with utility-specific advice on tap flushing in order to reduce lead levels and raise their awareness of the problems occurring.

By Jane Kettle


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