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New lead rules for water.

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new standards intended to dramatically reduce levels of lead in U.S. drinking water. The new rules "will reduce lead exposure for approximately 130 million people," especially children, said EPA Administrator William K. Reilly in announcing the move last week. "We estimate approximately 600,000 children will have their blood lead content brought below our level of concern because of these standards."

EPA ordered a phaseout of leaded gasoline in 1984 and banned leaded solder in 1986. Drinking water remains the largest lead source over which EPA maintains regulatory control.

The new rules, initially proposed almost three years ago (SN: 8/20/88, p.1118), will force municipal water suppliers to monitor lead levels beginning in 1992 and 1993. In at least 90 percent of monitored households, tapwater lead values must not exceed 15 parts per billion, which "corresponds to an average level of approximately 5 ppb," according to EPA. The existing standards for drinking water allow an average lead level of 50 ppb.

When suppliers identify problem areas, they will have to lower the water's acidity with chemical treatment. Acidity increases water's ability to leach lead from the pipes through which it passes. Where residential water supplies flow through lead service pipes, such anticorrosive chemical treatment may not reduce lead leaching to acceptable levels; in these instances, the new rules give water suppliers 15 years to replace their lead plumbing.

Whereas EPA's previous standards permitted water providers to monitor lead levels anywhere in their distribution systems, the new standards require water utilities to measure lead where and when levels will be highest: at a customer's faucet, first thing in the morning. Suppliers must also focus their monitoring efforts on households at high risk: those whose water comes through lead service pipes or whose plumbing joints have been sealed with leaded solder since 1982.
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Title Annotation:Environmental Protection Agency
Publication:Science News
Date:May 18, 1991
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