EPA Holds Stakeholder Meeting on New Lead Content Requirements

EPA held a stakeholder meeting, with concurrent webinar, to provide information and receive input regarding new changes in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) that lower the amount of lead allowed in pipes, plumbing, and fixtures. The changes in the SDWA, dubbed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, are intended to take a lead free definition that has been in effect in California for some time and apply it nationally. The basic change and some differences in language between the new requirements and the language in the existing SDWA have raised issues that EPA wants to receive comment about from the industry and other parties before the effective date in 2014.

The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act amends SDWA Section 1417 – Prohibition on Use and Introduction into Commerce of Lead Pipes, Solder and Flux has the following key features:

  • Modifies the applicability of the prohibitions by creating exemptions for materials used exclusively for nonpotable purposes, including a list of specific exempted items
  • Changes the definition of “lead-free” by reducing lead content from 8% to a weighted average of not more than 0.25% in the wetted surface material (primarily affects brass/bronze)
  • Eliminated the provision that required certain products to comply with “voluntary” standards for lead leaching
  • Establishes a statutory requirement for calculating lead content
  • Effective 36 months from signature – January 4, 2014

These are some of the issues that EPA finds challenging, where they would like input:

  • Scope of exemptions – If not specifically listed as exempted, can some things be assumed to not be used for human consumption such as yard hydrants or fire hydrants?
  • Documenting compliance – How should manufacturers demonstrate that products are lead free – self certification or third party certification?
  • Labeling – What labeling should be required to indicate which materials comply with the new definition? Will all products need labeling (a “dual inventory” model) or would it be more efficient if certain products likely to be used in drinking water applications all had to meet the new standard (“single inventory” model) and therefore would not need individual labeling?.
  • Repair and maintenance issues – How should compliance be addressed when an old product not meeting the new content standard is repaired or even when a meter is just removed for testing and then replaced? Using compliant repair parts may not be significant but requiring complete replacement of an entire component as a result of a minor repair may be expensive.

These issues and more were discussed during the presentations and question and answer time. Barry O’Brien of the Maryland Department of the Environment provided a state perspective on the issues during the stakeholder meeting, joining EPA, water utility, manufacturer and environmental group representatives. Right now, EPA has more questions than answers but hopes to use the input from the meeting to help them address the issues.

Because of the timing of the effective date of the requirements (January 4, 2014), there is not sufficient time for EPA to have regulations in place to address all the implementation details. EPA expects to include the requirements related to the new lead free definition in the Lead and Copper Rule Long-Term Revisions (LCR-LTR) which will only be proposed in 2013. In the interim, EPA will use the input from stakeholders to develop guidance. EPA would like comments from stakeholders by the end of August so they can produce this guidance as soon as possible. Manufacturers are already making plans for products that will be sold in 2014 and need to know as soon as possible what requirements they must meet.

Even without regulations, EPA will expect states to help implement the law when it becomes effective in January 2014 as they did the original “lead free” requirements. The details of how the implementation will be done are still open to discussion and state input on this issue will be important. ASDWA plans to provide comments to EPA on issues of particular interest to states in the next week or so. States are encouraged to provide individual comments to Lameka Smith of EPA at smith.lameka@epa.gov by August 31, 2012. For more information see the LCR-LTR website.