Watchdog: EPA not ready to alert public to lead in drinking water

By Annie Snider | 06/11/2024 12:50 PM EDT

The public notification requirements that were passed in 2016 in the wake of the Flint drinking water crisis are supposed to go into effect in October.

More than seven years after Congress mandated that EPA swiftly alert the public to surges in lead contamination in drinking water, EPA’s inspector general has found the agency still isn’t ready to roll out an action plan.

The public notification requirements that were passed in 2016 in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, drinking water crisis are set to go into effect in October, but as of last August, the agency was still in the initial phases of figuring out how to implement it, the inspector general found. The effort is complicated by the glacial pace at which EPA receives utilities’ monitoring data.

“The EPA has determined that lead in drinking water poses serious health risks, but the agency lacks access to timely tap water sampling results and had not established a plan or provided guidance to help states and water systems be ready to issue public notices within 24 hours of learning about a lead-action-level exceedance,” Tim Roach, audit supervisor, said in a statement.


Under the Safe Drinking Water Act regulation governing lead levels, water systems must submit sampling results to the states within 10 days of completion. But the states don’t have to submit that data to EPA until three months after the end of the quarter. That makes it virtually impossible for EPA to ensure that water utilities and states are complying with the new public notification requirement and step in if they’re not.