Beyond Lead in Schools

Federal & state initiatives aim to monitor lead in drinking water

Federal & state initiatives aim to monitor lead in drinking water

While more than 20 states are working on legislation requiring water testing in schools for lead, some states also are creating task forces to concentrate on the overall risk of lead exposure and other contaminants. 

State Task Forces

In Pennsylvania, a Senate resolution passed in June 2017 to establish a task force to examine lead exposure and hazards. As of the 2010 U.S. census, Pennsylvania ranks fifth in percentage of homes built before 1978. These older homes are at a greater risk of containing lead paint or pipe with lead solder. The task force members will include the chairperson and minority chairperson of the Senate’s environmental resources and energy committee, the chairperson and minority chairperson of the Senate’s health and human services committee, and two additional members of the Senate appointed by the president pro tempore and the minority leader. Additionally, the Joint State Government Commission will establish an advisory committee to the task force, and members will include public representatives. The task force will issue a report on its findings and recommendations to the Senate within 18 months of establishing the advisory committee. 

California is proposing a similar Lead Advisory Taskforce under its Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment. The task force would review and make recommendations on policies and procedures to reduce childhood lead poisoning in the state. The task force’s report will include a recommended regulatory agenda with identified sources of lead and regulatory standards to protect public health in California. The 21 members of the task force hail from various industries, including a physician and representatives from a lead poisoning prevention program and the State Water Resources Control Board. The regulatory agenda will be published on the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s website by April 1, 2020, and the agenda can be updated on or before April 1, 2022. 

The state of New York is considering establishing a Drinking Water Quality Institute within the state Department of Health that would comprise 17 members. Among other responsibilities, the institute would develop a list of contaminants for which all public water systems should be required to test, develop maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for unregulated contaminants, create appropriate testing techniques, and establish a clear notification process when dealing with water quality issues when there are actual or potential unregulated contaminant threats. 

Monitoring State Agencies

Federal and state agencies also are taking new steps to address drinking water beyond schools. 

At the state level, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency requires municipalities to notify residents of lead risk prior to a water main repair or replacement project. The notification is now a requirement to get a work permit. The notice must go out to everyone receiving water from the water line before construction begins. It should explain that construction can impact water quality and outline the risks and steps residents can take to ensure safe drinking water. Other states and cities are looking at steps they can take to protect public health from construction disturbances that may affect drinking water. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets MCLs at the federal level; however, in the states, MCLs have been set by a mix of legislation and agency actions. In California, the State Water Resources Control Board held a meeting in July 2017 to assess regulating 1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP), a manmade chlorinated hydrocarbon that can be found at industrial or hazardous waste sites. It is used as a cleaning and degreasing solvent and also is associated with pesticide products. On July 18, the board adopted the proposed 1,2,3-TCP regulation, setting a state MCL at 5 ppt. There currently is no federal standard. The California State Water Resources Control Board has created a page on its website with additional information on its decision. 

Remember, while agencies often are responsible for implementing legislation, in other instances they also can create their own policies. Most agencies allow anyone to sign up to receive email notifications, making it easy to monitor agency activities.

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About the author

Kathleen Fultz is regulatory and government affairs coordinator for the Water Quality Assn. Fultz can be reached at [email protected] or 630.505.0160.