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Wisconsin DNR calls on EPA to strengthen lead and copper pipe regulations

MADISON (WKOW) — After the Environmental Protection Agency presented its new plan to keep lead out of drinking water, the Wisconsin DNR responded, saying the proposal is not enough.

According to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, it was time for an upgrade. The EPA’s lead and copper standards haven’t changed since 1991 so on Thursday he came to Green Bay to announce the EPA’s new proposed nationwide efforts.

“First it would require water systems to act sooner to reduce lead levels,” he said. “Second it would improve transparency and communication with the public and third it would better protect children and the most at risk communities.”

To target those at-risk communities, Wheeler said the EPA is planning to prioritize testing in schools and childcare facilities.

“We want to make sure the parents of those children know what the lead content of the water is where they send their children every day,” he said.

The new rules would also set a trigger level at 10 parts per billion of lead in the water, far lower than the current action level of 15 parts per billion. If a utility finds lead at levels higher than that standard, it would trigger efforts for continued testing or prompt the utility to work with state officials to replace outdated lead pipes.

Still, the DNR said it’s not enough.

DNR Secretary-designee Preston Cole said in a statement that drinking water won’t be safe until they can remove all of the state’s lead pipes.

“There are hundreds of thousands of lead lines that need to be replaced in more than 130 cities, towns and villages across Wisconsin,” he said.

Some communities are further along than others.

Madison removed all of its lead pipes during a lengthy effort from 2001 to 2011. Green Bay plans to finish replacing all of its lead pipes by the end of 2020.

Other communities still need help.

Earlier this year, Stoughton Utilities found lead in six homes and in 2018, Janesville found elevated levels of lead in six of its eight elementary schools. Officials dealt with those issues but the DNR said the only way to ensure they don’t happen again is to get rid of the source.

“In order to remove lead service lines quickly from our communities, we will need more funding,” Cole said. “There is no safe level of lead.”

The EPA’s public comment period on its proposed lead rules lasts for another two months so the Wisconsin DNR plans to write a formal request calling on the federal agency to do more.

“We had hoped the EPA would have set clear timelines for lead service line replacement,” said Steve Elmore, the DNR’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Program Director.

Until the DNR sees that timeline and the appropriate assistance to help communities pull it off, the organization said it can’t fully support the proposed changes.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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