Repair Aging Water Infrastructure. Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced legislation to help repair the nation’s aging water infrastructure. The Promoting Infrastructure and Protecting the Economy (PIPE) Act would create a new grant program to help communities across the country invest in critical water system upgrades. The bill would authorize $5 billion over 10 years to provide discretionary grants to state and local governments, tribal governments, and public water utilities for projects related to drinking water and waste water infrastructure. The PIPE Act would allow communities to continue to provide clean water for their residents and reliable water systems that help promote economic development. Grants funded through the PIPE Act could be used to construct, replace, or repair public drinking water and waste water treatment facilities. This could include projects to repair or replace water pipes, projects to ensure drinking water sources comply with water quality regulations, and projects that promote water conservation and efficiency. Hansen: There is a lot of support for this legislation and a group of members of congress are pushing for hearings on this legislation.
EPA Completes Work on New Lead Rules, White House Reviewing. The EPA has sent its new regulations on lead in drinking water to the White House for final review, a milestone the agency has never reached before during the nearly eight years it’s been struggling to overhaul these regulations. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget began its review of the lead regulations (RIN: 2040-AF15) June 6, according to the office’s website. This OMB review is typically the final stage in the regulatory process before a proposal is released to the public. After this new regulation is publicly released, the EPA will solicit comments on it and then analyze and respond to the comments before implementing and enforcing the new lead regulations. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said the new regulations will focus on removing the millions of lead pipes still in use across the country. Water corroding these pipes as it passes through them is the primary way tap water gets contaminated with lead, a toxic metal that can cause irreversible neurological problems in children. Long before Wheeler became the country’s top environmental official, and even before the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., the EPA has been struggling with how to beef up its regulations on lead without imposing a crippling unfunded mandate on the many municipal-run utilities that own these lead pipes. Hansen: Wheeler said earlier this year he wants the agency’s new regulations to ensure that the most corrosive lead pipes are prioritized for the most rapid replacement.
Governor Abbot Takes Action To Extend Texas Board of Plumbers. Governor Greg Abbott yesterday issued an executive order to extend the activity of the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners past its set expiration of September 1, 2019. Governor Abbott utilized Section 418.016 of the Texas Government Code, which allows the Governor to suspend provisions of regulatory statutes prescribing the procedures for the conduct of state business if strict compliance would in any way prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with a disaster. Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and caused widespread destruction, the Governor has issued a disaster declaration each month effective through today. The magnitude of what still must be rebuilt is reflected in the more than $10 billion of federal funds that are newly or nearly available to Texas for areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. A qualified workforce of licensed plumbers throughout the state, including from areas not directly affected by Hurricane Harvey, will be essential as those funds are being invested in crucial infrastructure, medical facilities, living facilities, and other construction projects. Hansen: The Governor’s order today allows the Board to continue its operations through May 31, 2021, giving the 87th legislature time to address the matter.
New Study Links Water Contamination To Cancer. Nitrate pollution of U.S. drinking water may cause up to 12,594 cases of cancer a year, according to a new peer-reviewed study by the Environmental Working Group. For the study, EWG scientists estimated the number of cancer cases in each state that could be attributed to nitrate contamination of public water systems, largely caused by farm runoff containing fertilizer and manure. They also estimated the costs of treating those cases at up to $1.5 billion a year. The current federal drinking water standard for nitrate, set in 1962, is 10 parts per million, or ppm. Yet several well-regarded epidemiological studies have linked nitrate in drinking water with cancer and other serious health issues at levels less than one-tenth of the legal limit. Four-fifths of EWG’s estimated cases were occurrences of colorectal cancer, with ovarian, thyroid, kidney and bladder cancer making up the rest. Nitrate in tap water has also been linked with serious neonatal health issues. EWG estimated that nitrate pollution may be responsible for as many as 2,939 cases of very low birth weight; 1,725 cases of very preterm birth; and 41 cases of neural tube defects. Hansen: EWG scientists estimate the level at which there would occur no adverse health effects from nitrate in drinking water to be 0.14 milligrams per liter – equivalent to parts per million. That level, 70 times lower than the EPA’s legal limit, represents a one-in-one-million risk of cancer.
Flint Back In the News. Prosecutors announced this week they are dismissing all criminal charges against eight people who were charged in the Flint, Mich., water crisis and are restarting their investigation into one of the worst man-made public health crises in U.S. history. The announcement of the dropped charges comes as prosecutors say they will essentially start from scratch in reviewing the water crisis in order to expand the scope of the investigation. Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud took over the case in January and said previous prosecutors had not taken advantage of all available evidence. That expanded search included seizing the cell phone and other records from former Gov. Rick Snyder (R). Former state health director Nick Lyon was among those whose charges were dropped. Lyon was facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and accused of not quickly alerting the public of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak while Flint used water that was not properly treated. The outbreak of Legionnaires’, a form of pneumonia, occurred while the city used lead-contaminated water that also contained other bacteria tied to the disease. Lyon was the top official charged in the probe. Lyon’s attorney, Chip Chamberlain, told the press they “feel fantastic and vindicated,” after it was announced that charges would be dropped, but also acknowledged that Lyon and others could be charged again. Hansen: In April, a federal judge ruled residents of Flint, Mich., can sue the federal government over its response to the city’s drinking water crisis.