Lead, perchlorate are top EPA drinking water priorities for the coming year

During Water Week in Washington, D.C., the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) held its annual Washington Forum.

During Water Week in Washington, D.C., the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) held its annual Washington Forum. Among the many interesting sessions, WWEMA convened a panel of EPA division directors that helped shed light on some of the agency’s top priorities for the near term.

One panelist was Peter Grevatt, director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW), which oversees implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). In that capacity, the OGWDW develops and helps implement national drinking water standards, and oversees and assists in funding of state drinking water and source water programs. Grevatt discussed two major priorities for his department: lead and perchlorate.

Regarding lead, Grevatt said the agency’s efforts will play out in two regulatory contexts: one is the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and the long-term provisions to it. The goal is to release a rule by the end of the calendar year, but Grevatt cautioned that to do that, “there are a whole lot of things that need to fall into place.” Nonetheless, it’s a major priority and OGWDW is giving serious consideration to recommendations from the National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) that include proactive replacement of all lead service lines. “That’s a big deal when you imagine there are between 6 and 12 million lead service lines in the country today and we don’t really know where they are located,” he added. The potential cost of such a requirement is staggering: “If you assume a relative conservative estimate of $5K per line, you’re talking about $30B to $60B just for the replacement of lead service lines,” he said.

NDWAC has also recommended the inclusion of a Household Action Level, a health-based level that communities could use to understand when there is a concentrated level of lead in drinking water that is of sufficient concern to a particular home that it would trigger some additional actions. To research that further, Grevatt said EPA is conducting a peer review this summer of draft lead models “that are designed to understand the relationship between concentrations of lead in drinking water and concentrations of lead in the blood of children.” This would be a fundamental component of a Household Action Level, he said, but added, “It doesn’t mean we have decided to put that in the rule, it just means that we take that recommendation seriously and we’re going to explore that.”

The other regulatory goal with regard to lead relates to Section 1417 of the SDWA, which codifies the requirements of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act. As described in the Federal Register notice, the rule would “establish new requirements to assure that individuals purchasing, installing or inspecting potable water systems can identify lead-free plumbing materials.” This would impact labeling to differentiate plumbing products subject to the lead-free requirements from those that are exempt (such as those used for non-potable services). The proposed rule was released in January and is open for public comment until April 17. However, Grevatt suggested that an extension is possible.

Regarding perchlorate, the OGWDW is working under a court-ordered deadline to propose a Maximum Contaminant Level. According to Grevatt, the next step is to hold a public peer review meeting to discuss the development of a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal. “That will be a very important determination in terms of the question of how we might formulate a rule for perchlorate,” he said. That meeting is expected to happen sometime this summer.

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