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Utilities Don't Know Where Lead Pipes Are, And Water Testing Offers Limited Safety Assurances

Paul Sancya
AP Photo


When the Environmental Protection Agency published the federal Lead and Copper Rule in 1991, its purpose was to minimize the amount of lead (and copper) in drinking water. Before the rule, the EPA allowed 50 parts per billion of lead in water and required utilities to test for lead levels before the water entered the distribution system. The rule changed testing procedures, established a goal of zero parts per billion of lead in water, and lowered the action level — the amount of lead that triggers a requirement that utilities take steps to lower lead concentrations — to 15 parts per billion. It also outlined water treatment protocols to reduce corrosion of lead pipes.

But even if a community water system’s test results meet the EPA’s standards under the rule, it doesn’t necessarily mean every home’s water is safe. And basic information that could help target water quality testing is often missing.

Read the full version of this report at Keystone Crossroads' websiteKeystone Crossroads is a new statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU is a participating station.

Irina Zhorov was WESA’s reporter for Keystone Crossroads, a statewide public media initiative focused on issues in older Pennsylvania communities.