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Getting the lead out.

Getting the lead out

A new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation will require water suppliers to notify customers about any amount of lead in their water, and to provide details about lead's health effects. Previously, suppliers had to notify customers only if the amount of lead in supplied water was greater than the current federal standard of 50 parts per billion (ppb).

The new regulation, promulgated earlier this month and effective as of June 1988, reflects a growing recognition that lead is neurotoxic at even the smallest concentrations (SN:6/13/87, p.374). According to Joseph Cotruvo, director of the criteria and standards division of EPA's office of drinking water, the rule puts the EPA in compliance with one of three major lead-related requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act as amended by Congress in 1986. Another requirement, the banning of all lead-containing plumbing in new construction, was enacted last year.

However, controversy continues to surround the Drinking Water Act's third requirement--the setting of new federal standards for lead in drinking water. Lead was originally one of 40 contaminants for which new standards were to become effective by June 1988. Last month, though, EPA decided to drop lead from that list.

Cotruvo says that the EPA still plans to set lead standards by next summer, but some environmentalists are expressing concern that by separating lead from the package of other contaminants, new lead standards may be delayed for another year.

"Lead is probably the single most serious drinking water contaminant on that list,' says Robin Whyatt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City. "Even a single year of exposure can cause significant, irreversible effects in kids--something that's not true for low-level exposures of most of the other contaminants.'

Even if new standards are set by next year, the precise levels of those standards will remain controversial. As of now, according to Cotruvo, EPA is planning to lower the standard from 50 to 20 ppb. Others, including a panel of scientists participating in last month's 6th International Conference on Heavy Metals in the Environment, have recommended standards as low as 10 ppb. Such standards are feasible, they say, using water treatment methods that slow the leaching of lead from pipes and solder.

Meanwhile, the EPA's new notification regulation will require suppliers of lead-contaminated water to describe the potential sources of the lead, its health effects, ways to reduce it, what the water system is doing about it and whether the customer should seek another water supply. Last year, according to EPA estimates, approximately 42 million people were exposed to drinking water with lead concentrations of more than 20 ppb. The new regulation does not require suppliers to take any corrective action below 50 ppb.
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Title Annotation:new regulations on lead in drinking water
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 24, 1987
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