Too Little, Too Late, Too Long

December 24, 2020

More than 100 million babies have been born in the United States since the Lead and Water rule was comprehensively updated 30 years ago. Over those 3 decades, hundreds of scientific studies have demonstrated that no amount of lead exposure is safe — even tiny amounts can cause IQ loss and other learning and attention problems.

In 2012,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) responded to those studies by declaring that “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And the effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.” 

The damage that lead can cause to the developing brain, both before and after birth, is the primary reason for this finding. But EPAs in both Democratic and Republican Administrations have failed to respond to the urgency of protecting the brain development of American babies from lead’s lifelong impacts. 

While the new rule improves testing methods, requires more testing in schools and daycare centers, lowers the level requiring utilities to provide more information to customers, the new Lead and Copper Rule will not prevent the next 100 million American babies from being harmed by lead.

The legal limits are still too high to protect babies, especially those drinking formula mixed with tap water, as HBBF showed in our October 2020 Lead in Water Report. Water systems with the most serious lead problems are given another 33 years to replace their lead water pipes, and other systems can leave lead pipes in place in perpetuity.

It’s good that EPA is paying attention to the problem of lead in drinking water. But what they’ve done in this long-awaited revision is too little protection, coming too late for millions of babies, and with improvements that will take far too long for millions of babies now and over the next 30 years.