Lead is vicious stuff. When inhaled or ingested, your body can't tell the difference between lead and calcium, so it tucks lead away in your bones -- making the bones weaker and being sucked back out into the bloodstream when the body is looking for calcium. Lead in the bloodstream can reduce a child's IQ. Reducing lead levels in children provides $213 billion in economic benefits per year. There have even been studies suggesting a correlation between reductions in lead levels and drops in crime rates.
We've nearly eliminated lead from all gasoline and removed it from paint -- two of the most common sources of it 40 years ago. But American University and NBC News found another common vector that's still in place: water systems.
The problem stems, ironically, from the EPA's efforts to remove lead pipes from water conduits. The 1991 Lead and Copper Rule required that utilities test home water systems. If samples exceeded a certain level of lead, the utility had to reduce lead in the water either through a chemical process or by replacing lead service lines. That latter instance, in "partial pipe replacements," is where the problem arose.
The regulation began to derail as early as 1993, when the American Water Works Association (AWWA), which represents more than 4,000 public and privately owned water systems, sued EPA. The trade group argued that EPA had adopted the Lead and Copper Rule without proper notice about how it planned to define “control” of -- responsibility for -- the service lines. The group also claimed that utilities did not have authority to replace the sections of lines on private property, and that ordering them to do so exceeded EPA’s mandate. ...
[T]he agency amended its rule in 2000 to permit the utilities to perform so-called “partial pipe replacements,” from the water main to the private property line. In the vast majority of cases, homeowners would be responsible for paying to finish the job.
Few homeowners have done so, to their detriment.