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How Your Water Company May Be Poisoning Your Kids

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Research Center page, Health Issues page, and our Appetite For a Change page.

Historically, there have been four main sources of lead poisoning: paint, gasoline, tin cans, and water pipes. Lead paint was banned years ago, though old paint still remains a hazard in old housing, particularly in window sills. Leaded gasoline is no longer sold, and its only remaining threat is via old lead deposited in soil, especially in urban areas. Tin cans haven't used lead sealant for decades.

And water pipes-well, they've never been the most important source of lead poisoning, but they've been the most resistant to change. Thousands of miles of lead pipe are still in service, and as Sheila Kaplan and Corbin Hiar report this week, efforts to fix them have not just run aground, but possibly even made things worse.

The EPA wrote a rule in 1991 that forced water utilities to control lead levels, if necessary by replacing pipes. But the utilities sued, saying they didn't have the legal authority to replace the portions of pipe on private property-that is, the last 40 or 50 feet of pipe leading into homes. Eventually EPA backed down, but their solution may have just made the problem worse:

 After years of industry lobbying, the 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.


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