Responding to the high lead levels in the drinking water systems of Boston and the nation's capitol, Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced legislation to overhaul the Safe Drinking Water Act. He was joined by Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
“The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that our nation needs $265 billion to maintain and improve its drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years,” Jeffords said. “If we don't address this, we'll be facing more and more health and environmental issues as our nation's water infrastructure degrades.”
The Lead-Free Drinking Water Bill of 2004 would place new responsibilities on the EPA and the nation's public water systems to ensure that public health is not compromised by lead in drinking water. It also would ban leaded plumbing fixtures and components, which, under the current law, are allowed to contain 8 percent lead.
Other proposed requirements include:
- Revision of the SDWA for lead in drinking water to ensure the protection of “vulnerable populations” - infants, children, pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers;
- Better notification by water utilities to residents whose water has high lead levels, provision of free filters for those residents, and replacement of all lead service lines on public and private property (even if the lead levels decline);
- Increased water testing and lead remediation in schools and day-care centers; and
- Increased federal funding to upgrade water distribution systems.
In March, the House Government Reform Committee called on the EPA to review the federal rules, reported the Washington Post. Other investigations into the issue have been launched by the General Accounting Office, the D.C. inspector general and a law firm hired by the WASA board of directors.