EPA Faulted for Inaction in Flint, Failure To Update Lead Rule
The Environmental Protection Agency will issue a revised draft Lead and Copper Rule by Feb. 28 following a report from the agency’s inspector general on the EPA’s delay in responding to the Flint water crisis.
The report recommends nine actions EPA should take to improve its oversight of drinking water, including updating the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and establishing controls to annually verify that states are complying with the LCR.
The EPA agreed to eight of the changes, but is working with states on the last one—the recommendation to verify compliance with the LCR, according to Enesta Jones, an EPA spokeswoman.
Updates to the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule were in the works before the Flint crisis. The agency previously admitted the standard inadequately protects consumers because its 15-parts-per-billion lead threshold is not a safety standard, and because the rule is too complicated.
Overall, the report found EPA “did not implement management controls that could have facilitated more informed and proactive decision-making. The federal response was delayed, in part, because the EPA did not establish clear roles and responsibilities, risk-assessment procedures, effective communication and proactive oversight tools.”
The report says EPA should have been more alert to the problems, but was too concerned about maintaining a good relationship with the state.
“While oversight authority is vital, its absence can contribute to a catastrophic situation,” said EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins in a news release.
Flint switched from Detroit water to Flint River water in 2014 in a cost-saving move. But the city failed to use corrosion control, which resulted in lead leaching from pipes into the water. By the time EPA required the city to use corrosion control, in 2015, the city instead switched back to Detroit water, but the damage to the city’s water distribution pipes was done and lead continued to leach out of pipes. The city is now in the middle of a multimillion-dollar lead pipe replacement project.
In related news, Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards, ENR’s 2017 Award of Excellence winner who helped bring the water crisis to light, is suing two former colleagues and one Flint resident for $3 million for defamation.