New Rules for Lead in Drinking Water On Tap: Biden EPA Suspends Trump Regulations

WASHINGTON ­– The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today suspended the Trump-era Lead and Copper Rule to seek additional public input, particularly from communities with lead-contaminated drinking water. The Trump regulation left millions of people exposed to toxic lead in drinking water, in many cases for another 33 years or more. There is no safe level of exposure to lead.

“It’s promising that EPA is finally committing to take a hard look at fixing the badly-broken Lead and Copper Rule. The Biden Administration has the opportunity to make history by ending the crisis of lead-contaminated water, which is a public health disaster more than a century in the making,” said Erik D. Olson, NRDC’s senior strategic director for Health.

NRDC challenged the Trump regulations in January of this year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The NAACP and other advocacy groups, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the rule in January too, and ten states filed another lawsuit in March. The status of those cases has not yet been determined in light of today’s announcement. 

There are 6 to 10 million lead service lines (the pipes that run from the water main in the street to peoples’ homes) still in use in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Tens of millions of Americans are served by water systems violating the EPA’s weak rules intended to reduce lead levels in drinking water. Water systems with higher percentages of people of color are far more likely to be in violation and to remain in violation due to ineffective government intervention, according to an analysis by NRDC, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, and Coming Clean.

NRDC has been fighting to clean up lead in drinking water for decades, including legally challenging the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, and filing litigation seeking cleanup of lead in tap water in Flint, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In comments submitted to the EPA, NRDC  argued that EPA is legally required to set a directly enforceable maximum contaminant level (MCL) for lead of 5 parts per billion (ppb) at the tap (Canada and the EU are recommending 5 ppb, which also is maximum lead level allowed in bottled water by the U.S. FDA). If EPA were to refuse to set an MCL, NRDC urged that the agency overhaul the rules, including a requirement for full replacement of all lead service lines and other key strengthening changes. 

Additional Resources:    

NRDC Sues EPA for Its Illegal Rule That Will Expose Millions to Toxic Lead in Drinking Water
EPA’s New Drinking Water Rule Leaves Millions of Lead Pipes in the Ground to Contaminate A Generation of Children (NRDC press release, September 2020) 
Despite Major Health Risks, the EPA Plans to Leave Millions of Lead Water Pipes in the Ground (NRDC blog, September 2020)  
Watered Down Justice (2019) by NRDC, Environmental Justice Health Alliance, and Coming Clean
Lead Contaminated Water: EPA’s proposal Fails Our Kids (Feb 2020, blog)
US EPA’s Proposed Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (Nov 2019, Federal Register) 
NRDC’s Comments to the EPA’s Proposed Revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (Feb 2019)
Flint Water Crisis (NRDC)     

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 and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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