Conservation Wellness

Climate Column: Testing the Waters

By Joshua Blanco

With its state-of-the-art treatment facilities and well-maintained watersheds, Asheville already has some of the purest drinking water in the world. And thanks to the latest revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule set forth by the EPA, our water just got cleaner.

In its first major update in three decades, the Lead and Copper Rule will now protect us by further limiting exposure to toxic elements in our water supply. According to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, “this action incorporates best practices and strengthens every aspect of the rule” by closing old loopholes and speeding up the replacement of lead pipes and service lines.

Though Asheville has consistently exceeded EPA guidelines for water quality, regularly monitoring lead and copper levels for more than 20 years, plans to move in accordance with the anticipated revisions have been in the works since early 2019.

“Our goal is to provide unprecedented transparency into the effort for our water customers,” Asheville Water Resources director David Melton said in a press release. “…[W]ith these new EPA rules we have an opportunity to help homeowners identify whether these metals are present in their home plumbing system.”

Focusing on three key areas—lead service lines, schools and daycares, and updated water sampling— the City of Asheville has agreed to work with 120Water Audit Inc., a leading national water programs advisor, to streamline the multi-year compliance process.

Under the new rule, all water providers are required to map out all lead service lines along with plans to replace them. Schools and daycares will also be tested for lead and copper annually with results that can be accessed through the Public Transparency Dashboard.

Though sampling is not required for middle or high schools, testing can be provided on request. The new rule will also require water systems to follow improved sampling procedures. The City plans to collect 50 samples per year and report on the data collected.

The initiative will also include database probability findings to help identify neighborhoods with homes that may have used lead plumbing or soldering in the past. The City website states that water systems will be required to find and fix sources of lead in homes that exceed a certain threshold.

Still, it’s important to remember that no amount of lead is safe. Exposure can lead to brain and kidney damage in adults, and increases the risk of cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Early exposure in children can lead to a host of developmental complications.

Lead-containing service lines, solder and plumbing components were banned in 1986, but drinking water infrastructure built before this date could still contain lead. This spring the EPA requested additional input on the Lead and Copper Rule, a crucial step in protecting vulnerable communities. “Exposure to lead in drinking water can be a very serious problem for children’s health,” says EPA acting assistant administrator for water Radhika Fox. “It is essential that the EPA takes the time now to review this important rule to ensure that we are protecting current and future generations.”

For more information about the Lead and Copper Rule, visit EPA.gov/safewater. To learn more about the City of Asheville’s plans and what you can do to help, visit AshevilleNC.gov.

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