NRDC Sues EPA Over Rules Allowing Another Generation of Children to Drink Tainted Water From Lead Pipes

The incoming Biden Administration has options to consider before implementing the rule

WASHINGTON  ­– NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) filed a lawsuit today to strike down the Trump Administration’s new Lead and Copper Rule, which would leave millions of people exposed to toxic lead in drinking water for decades. There is no safe level of exposure to lead.

“Have we learned nothing from Flint? The Trump EPA’s weak and illegal rule will condemn another generation of children to drinking lead-tainted tap water. NRDC is suing to block this unjust rule and calling on the incoming Biden Administration and Congress to tackle the lead in water crisis left unaddressed by the Trump Administration,” said Erik D. Olson, NRDC’s senior strategic director for Health.     

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. 

“It’s unacceptable that EPA’s new rule fails to lift the burden of contamination facing so many largely Black and Brown communities already exposed to unacceptably high levels of lead and other dangerous chemicals in the water and air. Adding insult to injury, EPA has simply refused to ensure that states and cities like Chicago can improve people’s health by removing dangerous lead pipes that contaminate drinking water,” said Jeremiah Muhammad, Water Justice Program Manager with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) in Chicago. LVEJO is based in Chicago, which has an estimated 400,000 lead service lines in use, more than any other city in America.

The incoming Biden Administration has options to consider before implementing the new Lead and Copper Rule developed by the Trump EPA, including: 

1.     Hold public hearings with environmental justice and impacted communities to consider their input and chart a path forward to increase protections against lead in drinking water. The Safe Drinking Water Act required hearings to be held prior to issuing the rule, but the Trump EPA ignored this legal mandate. 

2.     Follow the science by setting a new drinking water standard based on updated studies that will ensure every person served by a water system has lead-safe drinking water. 

3.     Expedite replacement of every lead service line in every community across the country. EPA should require this by rule, but Congress also should swiftly step in. 

In July 2020 the House of Representatives passed legislation (the Tlaib Amendment to H.R. 2) authorizing $22.5 billion dollars for lead service line replacement, but the Senate failed to act. Similarly, bipartisan legislation was introduced to fund and require lead service line replacement within 10 years. NRDC urges the Biden Administration to work with Congress to enact legislation requiring and funding expedited lead service line replacement.   

“Drinking water from the sometimes century-old pipes is like drinking from a lead straw. The only way to ensure that lead contamination doesn’t get into our tap water from these pipes is to pull them out of the ground and replace them. While that’s not cheap, it’s doable and very important to protecting children’s health, according to every major children’s health association,” added Olson.  

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. Today’s case was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The NAACP, United Parents Against Lead, Newburgh Clean Water Project, Sierra Club, and Earthjustice filed a similar but separate lawsuit. 

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 a full inventory of all lead and other service lines.


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, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC

Related Press Releases