Chicago – EPA Lead and Copper Rule Roundtable Remarks

On July 8, I participated in the EPA's Chicago Community Roundtable to discuss the need to update the outdated Lead and Copper Rule.

On July 8, I participated in the EPA's Chicago Community Roundtable to discuss the need to update the outdated Lead and Copper Rule. Below are my remarks as prepared: 

Hi there, I’m Angela Guyadeen. I'm a mom raising two young children in the Chicagoland area and I’m also the Director of NRDC’s Safe Water Initiative. Thanks for taking the time to allow me to convey my thoughts about the need to fix the EPA’s weak Lead and Copper Rule. To me this issue is personal. Each day I come to work, I want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to ensure my children have a bright and healthy future. I know this is impossible without clean drinking water. And as an Illinois resident, I also know our state has the most lead service lines in the country.

Just as I would never give my kids a lead sippy cup, I don’t want them drinking from a lead straw. The lead service lines that deliver water into our homes are essentially the same thing as drinking from a lead straw. Lead in drinking water is a public health and environmental justice issue. Experts all agree that there is no safe level of lead because it harms the brains of children, and the damage is irreversible.

According to a study by the Metropolitan Planning Council, people of color in Illinois are up to twice as likely as Whites to live in the communities where almost all of Illinois' lead service lines are located. This demonstrates that when it comes to drinking water, too many Black and Brown communities are the wrong complexion for protection, bearing a disproportionate burden of lead in drinking water.

It is abundantly clear that the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule has failed to protect the public and ensure safe drinking water. As we’ve seen in case after case from Flint to Newark—and those are just the places that we know about—the rule is SO complex and riddled with loopholes that it makes implementation and enforcement deeply problematic.

Despite mandating the use of lead service lines until 1986, Illinois is starting to take action to fix this problem. The state recently passed the Lead Service Line Replacement & Notification Act, which gives Chicago 50 years to remove its lead service lines. While I’m glad to see this issue finally being addressed, that still leaves at least a couple more generations of children being exposed to lead—and that is unacceptable.

This is exactly why the EPA should act now to set a strong standard.  

We are asking the EPA to set a maximum contaminant level, at the tap, at 5 ppb. If that doesn’t happen, we are asking the EPA to:

  • First, mandate full lead service line replacement within 10 years and reduce the action level to 5 ppb
  • Second, improve monitoring so that both first-draw water and water from lead service lines is checked. Chicago’s and other data show that relying solely on the 5th liter sample for lead testing may miss real lead problems
  • Finally, Require better corrosion control, monitoring, public education and notification.

In order to do this work and remove all lead service lines, we need a significant amount of funding and cannot pass this cost on to Illinois residents. But, we need many more federal dollars to get this done locally.

Congress must recognize this opportunity and fully fund the drinking water infrastructure priorities outlined in the American Jobs Plan. This will help address public health and ensure our children have the best opportunity to fully live out the bright future they deserve.

Thankfully, getting the lead out of our drinking water and replacing lead service lines does not require a “moonshot” approach.

In order to build back better, we need money, backhoes and a commitment to getting the job done. President Biden has outlined a plan that would be the largest investment in water infrastructure EVER, and it’s about time. The benefits go beyond safer drinking water and will help create a generation of good-paying union jobs, economic growth, and position the United States for a strong 21st century.

Getting all the “lead straws” out of the ground and fixing the Lead and Copper Rule is the right thing to do for our children, our communities and our country—and the time to act is now.

To view a recording of all the LCRR roundtables visit: EPA LCRR Public Engagement

To learn more about the prevalence of lead service lines in the U.S. check out this NRDC study, which finds lead service lines in every state but most states fail to track their location. 

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