THE ORIGINAL LCR: REACTIVE AND INEFFECTIVE
There is no safe level of exposure to lead. It can bioaccumulate in the body and poses serious health risks to the brain and nervous system. Even at low exposure levels, lead is particularly dangerous and exposure to elevated levels of copper can result in nausea and potential liver and kidney issues.
Lead was widely used in plumbing materials until banned in 1986, resulting in an estimated 6.5 million to 10 million homes in the U.S. with lead service lines. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced the original Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) in 1991 to protect public health, establishing action levels at 1.3 mg/L for copper and 0.015 mg/L for lead. These action levels remain unchanged in the revised LCR. When these action levels were exceeded in 10% or more of the tap water samples collected during any monitoring period, improvements to the water systems were required.
Unfortunately, the frequency of obtaining water samples that would trigger LCR actions was rare because of the sampling procedures in place. This step required consumer involvement to perform advanced sampling methodology and was not necessarily performed at sites representing the true level of contaminants in the community. The LCR required sampling from the tap in homes and buildings, specifying that a draw of water should come from the first liter from the tap after a minimum of six hours of no water usage. However, not all buildings and homes were sampled, and in some cases they were not sampled correctly. The first liter often filled sample bottles with water from the portion of copper or plastic pipe in the home, not the lead service lines that were the true source of the problem. As a result, the data collected was not always reflective of the actual conditions.
Some water utilities were proactive in replacing lead service lines, even when they were found to be in compliance. However, this was not always the case, as LCR loopholes allowed for many problematic lead service lines to remain in service. It was estimated that the LCR resulted in water utilities replacing only 1% of lead service lines due to LCR violations. Inadequate sampling procedures and loopholes allowed neighborhoods and communities to suffer the health consequences and financial burden, thus triggering the need for revisions to the LCR. This new rule will require many utilities to make changes to their current treatment, finished water stability and distribution systems.