Attorney General Becerra Challenges Weakening of Crucial Requirements that Protect Public from Lead in Drinking Water

Monday, March 1, 2021
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a lawsuit challenging a Trump-era rule revising nationwide standards for controlling and remediating lead in drinking water. While the final rule includes certain necessary updates to the existing standard, these changes are overshadowed by the unlawful weakening of critical requirements and the rule's failure to protect the public from lead in drinking water to the maximum extent feasible, as required by law. In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) update to the Lead and Copper Rule is arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act's prohibition on the weakening of existing drinking water standards.

“We can’t settle for weak measures when the health of our communities is at stake,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Clean water is an essential right. Yet every year, millions of Americans are exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water. It's unacceptable. We owe it to our children to employ stringent standards to keep this toxic metal out of our taps.”

The Lead and Copper Rule is intended to protect public health and safety by reducing the harmful exposure to lead and copper in drinking water. Lead exposure disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color. Lead, a highly toxic heavy metal, can adversely affect almost every organ and bodily system. It is particularly dangerous for children since their developing brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to its damaging effects. Lead exposure can cause a range of health problems, including premature birth, learning disabilities, delayed physical development for children, and cardiovascular and kidney problems for adults.

Most lead enters drinking water from corroded pipes, faucets, and fixtures that contain lead or brass, and is exacerbated if water has high acidity or low mineral content. The American Water Works Association estimates there are 6.1 million lead service lines in the United States, including approximately 65,000 lead service lines in California. Dangerous levels of lead are disproportionately found in environmental justice communities that have older houses and lack the financial resources to remove old lead pipes and fixtures. 

Pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water Act, any “revision of a national primary drinking water regulation . . . shall maintain, or provide for greater, protection of the health of persons.” Further, any drinking water treatment requirements promulgated must “prevent known or anticipated adverse effects on the health of persons to the extent feasible.” In revising the Lead and Copper Rule, however, the EPA weakens the rate at which water systems must replace existing lead service lines from 7 to 3 percent each year. The EPA also concludes that the revisions will not disproportionately impact environmental justice communities, despite only requiring the full replacement of lead service lines in communities where the property owners have the resources to cover the out-of-pocket costs to replace the private portion of the lead service line. 

Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of New York, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia in filing today’s lawsuit.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

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