EPA Region 3's Oversight Role and Regulatory Structure for Addressing Lead in Drinking Water
Potential Sources of Lead in Drinking Water
EPA's Regulatory Structure for Addressing Lead in Drinking Water
Lead and Copper Tap Sampling
Lead and Copper Action Levels
Corrosion Control Optimization
Replacement of Lead Service Lines
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 (EPA) and the Mid-Atlantic States oversee the public water systems within our Region and ensure that our drinking water meets National Primary Drinking Water Standards. In general, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires a public water system to monitor drinking water for regulated contaminants to ensure that it is safe for their customers; to provide an annual drinking water quality report (Consumer Confidence Report) to its customers; and to notify them whenever there is a violation of drinking water standards.
The states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia directly oversee public water systems (PWS) through EPA's delegation of primary enforcement authority for the Public Water System Supervision (PWSS) Program. EPA Region 3 directly implements this program for the District of Columbia. Federal regulations designate the Regional Administrator as the entity responsible for implementing the PWSS Program when a state has not been granted primary enforcement authority, or primacy, by EPA.
In Washington, D.C., the suppliers regulated by EPA Region 3 include the Washington Aqueduct, which treats the water, and the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DCWASA), which purchases the water from the Aqueduct and distributes it to the District residents. The Washington Aqueduct is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When a violation of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations occurs, EPA can take direct enforcement action in areas where the Agency directly implements the program, such as in the District of Columbia.
EPA Region 3's oversight role consists of enforcing the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations found in 40 C.F.R. § 141. That means EPA Region 3's responsibilities include:
ensuring the District's water suppliers know and understand the regulations;
provide advice and technical assistance to the water suppliers on how to comply with the federal regulations;
require the water suppliers to monitor the water and their treatment processes according to the federal regulations;
ensure that there is enough laboratory capacity in the District to perform the required monitoring;
inspect and certify the Washington Aqueduct's laboratory for Safe Drinking Water Act compliance analyses;
ensure the suppliers report to EPA Region 3 results and other required information, in appropriate format and detail, by the required deadlines;
review results and reports to determine if the water suppliers comply with the regulations;
take appropriate enforcement actions against the water suppliers if violations occur; and
use these enforcement actions to return the water suppliers to compliance as quickly as possible to minimize the risk to public health.
There are three potential sources of lead in drinking water: source water, water in the distribution system lines, and lead in customers' plumbing systems. In very rare instances, the source water being used by the public water supplier can have elevated lead levels. Lead levels are extremely small or non-detectable in the Potomac River water. Lead levels in the water delivered to the District's customers' service line are also extremely low. The elevated lead levels in the District of Columbia are coming from the plumbing systems of customers' buildings, including the service lines feeding those buildings if they are made of lead. The service line is the pipe running from the water main in the street to just inside the building being served.
EPA recognized that lead can leach from plumbing products into the water being distributed by public water suppliers for drinking. EPA authorities, however, are limited to requiring public water suppliers to meet the regulations governing treated water quality distributed via the public system. These authorities do not allow EPA to require homeowners to replace their plumbing systems if they contain lead. To reduce consumers' lead exposure through tap water, EPA has used its available authorities to require public water suppliers to treat their water to make it as minimally corrosive as possible to metals in their customers' plumbing systems. These treatment requirements were promulgated in EPA's Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) on June 7, 1991.
Using this approach, the LCR is not designed to measure health risks to individual consumers, but is centered upon measuring overall corrosivity of the treated water using worst-case lead and copper sample site data as an indicator of the effectiveness of corrosion control treatment.
The LCR has four main functions: 1) determine tap water levels of lead and copper at customers who have lead service lines or lead-based solder in their plumbing systems; 2) rule out the source water as a source of significant lead levels; 3) require water suppliers to optimize their treatment systems to control corrosion in customers' plumbing; and 4) if action levels are exceeded, require the suppliers to educate their customers about lead and suggest actions they can take to reduce their exposure to lead through public notices and public education programs. The major components of the LCR are described, briefly, below.
Public water suppliers must select sample sites for their routine lead and copper monitoring that have lead service lines or lead-based solder in their plumbing system since this will provide the worst-case scenario lead or copper levels if the water is too corrosive. Water suppliers the size of the DCWASA had to sample a minimum of 100 locations, every six months, during the initial monitoring period that began January 1992. If the Action Level was not exceeded, either with or without additional treatment, monitoring frequency could be reduced to once per year, and the number of homes sampled to 50. This was the case for DCWASA. They optimized their corrosion control treatment, met the Action Levels and were granted reduced monitoring status.
The Action Level for lead is 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/l) which is equivalent to 15 parts per billion (ppb). For copper, the Action Level is 1.3 mg/l or 1,300 ppb. This Action Level was not designed to measure health risks from water represented by individual samples. Rather, it is a statistical trigger value that, if exceeded, requires more treatment, public education and possibly lead service line replacement.
Water suppliers were required to optimize their corrosion control treatment by either adjusting current treatment or installing new treatment capability if it had not existed already. They are also required to operate this treatment so that lead and copper levels remain below the Action Levels and the water is as minimally corrosive as possible. If, during the initial tap monitoring, more than 10% of the samples collected by a water supplier exceed the Action Levels (90th percentile level), they must conduct corrosion control treatment studies and install optimal corrosion control treatment based on these studies. They must also conduct source water monitoring to rule out the possibility that the lead or copper is elevated in the raw, untreated water. EPA Region 3 deemed DCWASA to be implementing optimized corrosion control treatment on July 15, 1997.
If optimal corrosion control treatment is installed and the water supplier subsequently exceeds the lead or copper Action Levels in their routine tap monitoring, then further requirements apply. Requirements include: public education conducted by the supplier, return to higher monitoring frequencies, increased numbers of sample sites (if on reduced monitoring schedules) for their routine tap water monitoring, and initiation of replacement of lead service lines owned by the system.
A water supplier that exceeds the lead or copper Action Level is required to conduct a public education program. Much of the language required in public education program activities is specified in federal regulations. This program requires suppliers to:
insert notices in each customer's utility bill providing background
information on the rule, health effects of lead, how lead gets into drinking
water, and steps customers can take to reduce their exposure to lead in
drinking water; the bill must also provide an alert on the face of the
bill itself stating that some homes in the community have elevated lead
levels in their drinking water and encourage consumers to read the enclosed
submit information contained in the public notice (as provided in the bill stuffer) to the editorial departments of the major daily and weekly newspapers circulated within the community; and
submit public service announcements to at least five of the radio stations and television stations with the largest broadcast audiences in the community.
Any water system that fails to meet the lead Action Level in their routine tap water monitoring program, after installing and optimizing corrosion control treatment, must begin replacing the lead service lines that they own. The replacement schedule is such that a minimum of 7% of the lead service lines must be replaced each year. A water system may collect a sample of water that has been undisturbed in the lead service line for six hours or more to capture worst case lead levels. If this sample result is lower than the 15 ppb Action Level, that particular lead service line does not have to be replaced. The water system can receive credit for this service line toward the 7% annual total to be replaced. If the result exceeds the Action Level, the service line must be replaced.
Water systems are required to report to the primacy agency:
all routine tap sampling results and the calculated 90th percentile
lead and copper levels;
information on each sampling site;
if the system moves into the lead service line replacement program, they must provide the primacy agency with an inventory of the lead service lines, identify the lead service lines that were scheduled to be replaced and those actually replaced, and service line sampling results for all service lines tested; and
information to demonstrate compliance with the public education program requirements.