Lead Found at Exceedingly High Levels in West Virginia Drinking Water

Clarksburg’s shocking example demonstrates urgent need to remove lead pipes and update EPA’s lead in water rules

WASHINGTON – With lead levels in drinking water measuring tens and sometimes 100 times higher than the federal standard in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an emergency “imminent and substantial endangerment” order directing the town’s water board to find an alternative source of drinking water for residents with pipes.

Documents released by the EPA reveal lead levels at tens or hundreds parts per billion (ppb) and in some cases in excess of 1,000 ppb– well beyond the federal standard of 15 ppb. An original order issued by West Virginia’s State Health Officer indicated “elevated blood lead levels detected in the bloodstream of children” residing in Clarksburg triggered the collection of drinking water samples. EPA’s emergency order followed the alleged failure of the water board to comply with the state order. The Water Board allegedly had been able to reduce its monitoring and avoid taking action to address potential lead issues because of loopholes in EPA’s outdated and weak Lead and Copper Rule.

The following is the reaction of Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director for health at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council):

“How many more communities must face a lead contamination crisis and poison their children before we get every lead pipe out of the ground across the nation? Today it’s Clarksburg, West Virginia. Before then it was Newark, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan. These are not isolated ‘one in a million’ episodes. Every parent should be able to give their child a glass of water without it being contaminated by toxic lead. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan is a historic opportunity to fix the nation’s lead pipe crisis in West Virginia and beyond.” 

In its national inventory of lead pipes released last week, NRDC reported West Virginia had 20,000 lead pipes, but the state informed NRDC that it did not track the number of lead pipes and could not provide us with those estimates. The Water Board serving Clarksburg reported it had no lead pipes in March, 2019, according to documents released today. 


NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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