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Project To Evaluate Lead and Copper Rule
January 21, 2011

Marc Edwards of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering will spearhead a $450,000 empirical and legal evaluation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, an Environmental Protection Agency regulation designed to protect U.S. consumers from elevated levels of lead and copper in drinking water.

Marc Edwards

Under the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, responsibility for avoiding harmful exposures to lead in drinking water is shared between regulated water utilities and unregulated consumers. The research will examine potential weaknesses in three key requirements of the law: Water sampling methods to measure lead levels, replacement of water lines that contain lead, and public education initiatives aimed at promoting safe water-use practices.

“This is a very timely research project, that will obtain sound data that can inform EPA’s efforts to improve the public health protection,” said Edwards, who is the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil Engineering and a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.

Findings from this study may be used to help the EPA craft a stronger Lead and Copper Rule, and help policy makers shape future laws and regulations that address various contaminants that could be found in water, Prof. Edwards said.

Awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research program, the study will bring together experts from the fields of engineering, science, law, anthropology and public health to gather data and identify necessary revisions for improved public health protection.

The rule now gives water utilities leeway to monitor lead in drinking water, using protocols that might miss potential contamination hazards. Moreover, recent research has shown that in at least some cases, the replacement of municipal lead pipes up to a home’s property line — without replacing the private portion of the pipes — can actually increase lead-in-water problems.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert about the potential for increased likelihood of childhood lead poisoning following this expensive procedure. Many industry groups, including representatives of the American Water Works Association, are requesting a moratorium on such work.

The Virginia Tech research team will examine potential conditions in which long-term problems with high lead in water tend to arise.

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