EPA chief wants to eradicate lead from drinking water

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency says eradicating lead from drinking water is one of his top priorities three years after the Flint water crisis, and he’s worried Americans aren’t “sufficiently aware” of the threat.

“I really believe that we ought to set a goal as a country that, over the next 10 years, that we ought to work with respect to investments in our infrastructure to eradicate lead in our drinking water,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told reporters this week at the agency’s headquarters.

“It can be achieved. Some of the mental-acuity levels of our children are being impacted adversely as a result of this.”

Pruitt is concerned that parents and citizens don’t understand the threat of lead in drinking water or toys, and “we’re looking at ways we can contribute to that dialogue,” he said, according to an audio recording provided by the New York Post.

“I do think that what happened in Flint is something that could happen elsewhere. We just simply need to take steps to do all that we can to address it prospectively and proactively,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion plan to bolster the nation’s infrastructure over the next decade would include investments in aging water infrastructure.

Pruitt didn’t describe a plan for replacing the thousands of lead service lines throughout the country – a cost estimated around $40 billion to $45 billion – but stressed the need for state and local governments to invest in such upgrades, perhaps with federal grant aid.

Pruitt added he would “love” to see local governments investing more in water infrastructure.

“These water treatment facilities – they have authority to bond out, to raise fees, to invest in corrosion control, the replacement of service lines and the rest,” Pruitt said. “And some of them just aren’t doing it.”

Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed having water customers across Michigan pay a $5 annual fee to help upgrade aging infrastructure and replace lead pipes in their local communities, but the plan hasn’t gained steam in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said what Pruitt has described isn’t really a plan.

“When it comes to Mr. Pruitt, nice words don’t replace pipes. It takes money. What they have proposed is really nothing when it comes to infrastructure,” Kildee said of the Trump administration.

Kildee said what would help is Pruitt putting his support behind Kildee’s legislation that would reduce the acceptable amount of lead in drinking water to 5 parts per billion. The current federal action limit is 15 parts per billion.

“Force federal and state governments to stare this in the face by adopting a level that is science-based that says there is no acceptable level of lead,” he said.

EPA has spent a decade trying to update the rule.

Snyder called the rule “dumb and dangerous” after the Flint disaster. The state has proposed draft rules to drop the acceptable amount of lead in drinking water to 10 parts per billion by 2024.