BM4F CAO Michelle Mabson Speaks Truth to Power Surrounding the Lead & Copper Rule

May 15, 2020 | BM4F Spotlights, Uncategorized, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 1 comment

BM4F Chief Advocacy Officer and Environmental Scientist Michelle Mabson spoke truth to power this week as she testified against some of the weak recommendations from the EPA’s proposed Lead and Copper Rule revisions.

What did Michelle Say?

Good morning, my name is Michelle Mabson and I am a staff scientist at Earthjustice, the largest nonprofit environmental law organization in the country. I am here today because if finalized in current form, the EPA’s Proposed Lead and Copper Rule revisions would not result in stronger protections that would prevent health risks from lead in drinking water. Commenters commend the SAB [Science Advisory Board] for its thorough, objective, and evidence-based analysis of the Proposed Rule and offer additional scientific and technical considerations in response to the SAB’s draft recommendations. 

As the SAB notes, “the Proposed Rule is intended to protect public health by reducing exposure to lead and copper in drinking water”. The scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that there is no known safe level for exposure to lead and in addition to neurodevelopmental harm, lead can cause other permanently debilitating health effects, including immunological and reproductive harm, as well as damage to the kidneys. Therefore, the Proposed Rule, must be strengthened to reflect the decade’s worth of innovative scientific findings and technical advances to provide adequate health protection as required under the Safe Drinking Water Act. 

The EPA has provided no scientific or technical basis for the Agency to propose to reduce the rate of lead service line replacement from the current annual rate of 7% to the proposed rate of 3%. As described in written comments, EPA’s justification depends on unreliable survey data of only 11 water utilities, which is not generalizable for the 150,000 regulated systems across the U.S. Furthermore, as the SAB importantly describes in its draft recommendations, there are other lead-related health effects, such as higher risk of cardiovascular disease, that have been well-documented in credible peer-reviewed studies. Such health effects have not been captured in the cost-benefit analysis and severely underestimate the benefits of much needed improvements to the Proposed Rule. Indeed, this evidence supports the need to accelerate lead service line replacement as a means to provide stronger protections for public health. 

With respect to schools and child care facilities, the Proposed Rule does not follow EPA’s own guidance, which advises facilities to conduct testing at all outlets due to the individual plumbing fixtures that might contribute to elevated lead levels at a given outlet. The SAB should advise EPA to update the Proposed Rule to follow valid technical guidance to ensure sufficient testing for potential lead contamination. Additionally, as the SAB notes, sampling every 5 years at a given school is likely not sufficient if internal plumbing and fixtures are not lead-free. Furthermore, as elaborated in Earthjustice’s written comments, there is a need to set technical parameters to identify and prioritize sampling at schools and child care facilities that are most likely to be impacted by lead contamination to ensure facilities are tested within an appropriate timeframe.

I appreciate the SAB’s thorough review of EPA’s Proposed Rule and the opportunity to provide comment on the SAB’s draft recommendations. I respectfully request that the SAB consider these additional factors as well as the additional written comments submitted to the SAB on May 4th as a means to strengthen much needed health protections. Thank you for your time.

Why is Michelle’s Testimony Important?

It is imperative that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) keep a close eye on the progress with the recommended revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule as OUR communities are the most impacted. Using the COVID-19 pandemic for example, very quickly data demonstrated that environmental racism makes BIPOC more susceptible to the virus. It is absolutely critical to strengthen, not weaken the Lead and Copper Rule. As scientists and researchers are learning more about the virus everyday, it is clear that COVID-19 could exacerbate any pre-existing conditions associated with lead exposure and lead poisoning. An estimated 15 to 22 million Americans still cook with and drink tap water entering their homes through lead pipes, known as “service lines”. Additionally, on average, black children are more likely to have higher blood lead levels as compared to white and Latinx children.

Packtor, C. (2018). Racial Gaps in Children’s Lead Levels. Public Health Post. Retrieved from: https://www.publichealthpost.org/databyte/racial-gaps-in-childrens-lead-levels/

We cannot continue this narrative that lead in water is just a Flint issue. Local and state water infrastructure is crumbling and antiquated, and our elected officials as well as government agencies need to protect the American People. There are decades of research that point to the exact measures that need to take place to mitigate lead in our community water systems; however, those recommendations have been ignored far too long. Living in a capitalistic society, (as it is inevitable that some lawmakers are driven by financial motive as opposed to humanity), it is important to note that the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found that each lead service line replaced yields a $22,000 payback in reduced deaths from cardiovascular disease — that’s more than $205 billion over 35 years!

As we move into the 2020 Presidential election, voters should take a hard look at the candidates’ respective platforms surrounding water quality, infrastructure and a host of other environmental justice issues that are particularly pervasive to BIPOC. TIME IS UP!

GIPHY Studios Originals

Where Can I Learn More?

Do you want to be like Michelle, but you have never written or made public comment? Click here for our FREE resource “Public Commenting 101”. Learn more about the proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule on EPA’s website here. Follow our Chief Advocacy Officer Michelle Mabson on social media: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Are you interested in being a featured blogger? Email us at media@blackmillennials4flint.org.

1 Comment

  1. Cameron Trimble

    Thank you for shedding light on this issue. I had no idea this was happening right under our noses. Its especially egregious that they arr reducing the testing standards for schools since kids are even more susceptible to the effects of lead.

    Reply

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