New EPA Rule a Step Forward for “Filtered Not Bottled” Water, More Amendments Needed

As strongly recommended by Plastic Pollution Coalition and other leading experts and community advocates, on November 30 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) included in the newly drafted Lead and Copper Rule Improvement (LCRI) language that could mitigate the distribution and use of hundreds of billions of single-use plastic water bottles across the United States over the next 10 years. 

The LCRI strengthens the Lead and Copper Rule that was originally published in 1991 to control lead and copper in drinking water, and the Filtered Not Bottled campaign has been pushing for the inclusion of language to proactively recommend the distribution point-of-use filters to impacted households within the LCRI. The newly drafted rule requires water systems with consistently high levels of lead to make available to customers filters certified to remove lead from water, rather than single-use water bottles. This is a very significant step forward.

It is critical we do not allow additional serious pollutants to be introduced into the environment and our bodies while the U.S. addresses getting toxic lead out of our drinking water. Plastic pollutes at every stage of its existence. We are grateful the EPA draft rule will advance access to filters, which can provide families with a safer, sustainable clean water solution to protect them for many years to come, while also reducing the use of plastic bottled water.

— Julia Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Plastic Pollution Coalition

In the United States there are an estimated 12 million lead pipes, otherwise known as lead service lines, bringing water into the homes of 22 million or more people. There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, and exposure can result in cognitive delays, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. The Biden-Harris Administration had previously committed to removing 100% of lead service lines within the next 10 years. However, because there is no safe level of lead exposure, many communities are now facing the question of how to get clean drinking water while they wait up to a decade for their lead pipes to be replaced. One thing is clear: single-use plastic water bottles are not the solution.

The Problem with Single-Use Plastic Bottles

Single-use plastic water bottles, like all plastics and especially single-use plastics, pollute throughout their existence. Unfortunately, consumption of single-use plastic bottles continues to grow, with 3 million single-use bottles used per hour in the U.S.; most of these bottles are not recycled and end up in landfills, incinerators, or are shipped overseas, driving pollution and injustice. Unfortunately, government and aid agencies have historically provided communities facing water pollution from lead and other contaminants with single-use water bottles—a regrettable substitute and another form of pollution.

Single-use plastic bottles are not only a source of pollution at the end of their use, but also during their production, transportation, and consumption. Plastic production emits highly toxic chemicals into primarily poor, rural, and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities. People living on the front lines of plastic production face a heightened risk of experiencing asthma, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Plastic bottles release toxic chemicals and microplastics into the water they hold, which in turn enters human bodies when consumed. Chemicals found in the water inside plastic bottles include hazardous heavy metals, including lead and antimony, and hormone disruptors, such as phthalates and bisphenols. 

Plastic Pollution Coalition has spent the last 14 years breaking the “myth” of single-use plastic bottles as a safe source of water and other beverages, exposing single-use bottles as pollution to communities, the environment, and the drinks they contain. We advocate for safe, simple solutions such as reusable, plastic-free bottles and water filters.

Filters, Not Bottles, as a Solution for Safe Drinking Water

In 2022, Plastic Pollution Coalition launched the Filtered Not Bottled campaign to call on the EPA and local governments to recommend and support distribution of filters to households impacted by lead pipes for use before, during, and up to 6 months after lead service line replacement.

Home water filters certified to remove lead are an economical, accessible, and healthy way to ensure families impacted by lead lines have access to clean water for drinking, cooking, and washing. Pitcher filters and replacement filters for one year can cost as low as $50, while single-use bottled water can cost $1,820–-$2,080 a year per person at $7.00–$8.00 per gallon and 5 gallons per person per week. Filters also drastically reduce plastic pollution that ends up in community waste infrastructure and in the surrounding environment. Supplying water to impacted communities for just 6 months could use as many as 32 billion single-use plastic water bottles. Filters, depending on the brand and model, can also reduce microplastics, chlorine, and other common water contaminants. 

In September of 2022, Plastic Pollution Coalition and other leading experts and community groups submitted a Letter to the EPA outlining our recommendations for filter distribution. Over the past year, we have attended meetings with the White House Center for Environmental Quality, EPA Office of Water, and leading federal elected officials, built relationships with impacted communities and local advocacy groups, distributed education materials, and increased public involvement with a petition and campaign letter to the EPA. We are pleased to see the EPA has utilized the Lead and Copper Rule Improvement draft to take an important step towards filter use and protecting impacted communities from lead and plastic pollution.

Where the LCRI Draft Rule Falls Short

The LCRI is a big win for Filtered Not Bottled and clean water across the country. However, the draft currently falls short on key measures that community groups, scientists, federal legislators, and leading advocacy organizations, such as Natural Resource Defense Council, have been calling for to best protect the impacted communities. We are hopeful the draft will be amended to include the following key measures:

  1. Reduce the lead action level to 5 parts per billion (ppb). While the proposed rule does reduce the lead action level from 15 ppb to 10 ppb, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water and reducing the action level to 5 is critical to protect communities.
  2. Require water systems to fund full lead service line replacement. The proposed rule must be amended to require water systems to not only fund the lead service line replacement on public property, as the current version states, but also the small portions of pipe on private property connecting the public systems to households and other infrastructure.
  3. Advise against toxic plastic pipes as the replacement pipe alternative. The draft rule failed to recommend safe pipe material for replacement and did not advise against plastic pipes associated with release of microplastic and chemicals into water, including PVC and PEX (as was recommended in the Letter to the EPA submitted September 2022 and in a recent report “The Perils of PVC Plastic Pipes” authored by Beyond Plastics and Plastic Pollution Coalition).

I applaud the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to require the removal of lead pipes used for drinking water nationwide, but EPA administrator Michael Regan needs to take that one step further and advise local governments not to replace lead service lines with PVC plastic pipes. Like all plastic, PVC and CPVC contain chemical additives—some toxic and many untested for toxicity—that can leach into our drinking water. The Biden administration must ensure we don’t leap from the frying pan into the fire by replacing lead pipes with another material that threatens public health, like PVC, especially when safe alternatives exist.

— Judith Enck, former EPA Regional Administrator and current Beyond Plastics President

The EPA will be accepting public comment on the proposed rule before it is finalized in October 2024, and will also be hosting an information webinar on December 6, 2023, and a virtual public hearing on January 16, 2024.

Take Action

Making pitcher filters available to the communities most impacted by lead is a big step forward for clean water free of lead and plastic pollution. Ultimately, it’s a move that will help communities impacted by lead pipes, as well as those where plastic is produced, transported, and disposed. 

Plastic Pollution Coalition, through its Filtered Not Bottled campaign, continues to advocate for safe, sustainable solutions to address polluted drinking water, without single-use plastic. While more work is needed to ensure this language is kept in the draft rule and improved along with other key measures, today we can celebrate a positive step forward!

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March 23, 2023 , 5:00 pm 6:30 pm EDT

2023 March Webinar

Date: Thursday, March 23
Time: 2-3:30 pm PT | 5-6:30 pm ET
Click here to convert to your timezone.

All people deserve access to safe drinking water. As part of the UN 2023 Water Conference, we are highlighting the need to keep plastic—and its toxic impacts—out of our water systems. Plastics are a health threat at every stage of their existence and are a critical environmental injustice issue disproportionately harming rural, low-income, and communities of color on the front lines of plastic production and disposal. That’s why plastic is not the solution for replacing the toxic lead pipes that currently deliver water into the homes of 22 million people in the United States. With $15 billion designated for lead pipe replacement over the next 5 years, this is the time to influence how the federal and local government use these funds to provide toxic-free drinking water without plastic

During our March 23 webinar, we will discuss the health hazards of single-use plastic bottles and plastic pipes such as those made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). We’ll recommend options for safe, non-plastic drinking water solutions during lead pipe replacement as well as tips and resources to ensure community water sources remain free of pollutants. These solutions are applicable not only for lead-impacted communities, but also the growing number of communities impacted by PFAs, microplastics, and other chemicals that commonly contaminate water resources. Tune in to learn ways to keep your family safe with filtered, toxic-free water. 

Joining us will be Brandi Williams, Good Trouble Department Civil and Human Rights & Fields Campaign Director, Hip Hop Caucus; Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James and 2021 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize; Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Dr. Terrence Collins, Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University; and Erica Cirino, Plastic Pollution Coalition Communications Manager and author of Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis. The webinar will be moderated by Madison Dennis, Filtered Not Bottled Campaign Coordinator, Plastic Pollution Coalition.


PANELISTS

Erica Cirino
Erica Cirino
Communications Manager of Plastic Pollution Coalition & Author of Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis

Erica Cirino is the Communications Manager of Plastic Pollution Coalition and author of Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis (Island Press, 2021). In the book, she documents plastic across ecosystems and elements; shares stories from the primarily Black, Brown, Indigenous, rural, and low-income communities that are disproportionately harmed by industrial pollution and injustice globally; and uncovers strategies that work to prevent plastic from causing further devastation to our planet and its inhabitants. Erica has spent the last decade working as a science writer, author, and artist exploring the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds, and she is best known for her widely published photojournalistic works that cut through plastic industry misinformation to deliver the often shocking and difficult truths about plastic—the most ubiquitous and insidious man-made material on Earth.


Dr. Terrence Collins
Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University

Dr. Terrence Collins is the Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry and Director of the Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University. The Institute is dedicated to “the intellectual growth and technical education of a new generation of ethically aware professionals who understand and practice science in the pursuit of sustainability—from the molecular level on up.” Terrence earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Auckland with postdoctoral work at Stanford University. He has authored/co-authored over 250 publications, delivered over 600 public lectures, and holds over 20 career awards. He developed the first Chemistry and Sustainability university class in 1992, and believes that “achieving a sustainable global chemical enterprise is first and foremost a human character challenge.”

Judith Enck

Judith Enck
CEO of Beyond Plastics

Judith Enck is the Founder and CEO of Beyond Plastics and former Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama, where she oversaw environmental protections in New York, New Jersey, eight Indian Nations, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She founded Beyond Plastics in 2019 with a mission to end plastic pollution through education, advocacy, and institutional change. She is a Senior Fellow and visiting faculty member at Bennington College, where she currently teaches classes on plastic pollution. Previously, Judith served as Deputy Secretary for the Environment in the New York Governor’s Office, Policy Advisor to the New York State Attorney General, Senior Environmental Associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Executive Director for Environmental Advocates of New York. Judith is a past President of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and a regular contributor to public affairs discussions.

Sharon Lavigne

Sharon Lavigne
Founding Director of Rise St. James

Sharon Lavigne is the Founding Director of Rise St. James, a faith-based organization focused on preventing worsening pollution from and expansion of the petrochemical industry. An environmental justice activist based in Louisiana, Sharon’s work focuses on combating petrochemical complexes and their negative health impacts on local populations in her state as well as others that comprise Cancer Alley. She is the 2022 recipient of the Laetare Medal, the highest honor for American Catholics, and a 2021 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. She has testified before Congress and is also a collaborator on the Coalition Against Death Alley, a regional environmental justice group. She is also a plaintiff in White Hat v. Landry, an environmental justice case, focused on changes in Louisiana Oil and Gas law.

Brandi N.Williams

Brandi N. Williams
Civil and Human Rights, Good Trouble Department Field Campaigns Director for Hip Hop Caucus

Brandi “Bea” Williams serves as the Civil and Human Rights, Good Trouble Department Field Campaigns Director for the Hip Hop Caucus. She is an award-winning and accredited public relations professional turned broker for change who uses her diverse public relations background to negotiate opportunities, equity, and liberation for Black people. Brandi’s advocacy ranges from environmental sustainability to education and mental health. Recently, Brandi earned the Eatmon Award, which is given annually to a person dedicated to educating Black voters. Brandi received her certification as a health coach and launched SoulMed, a holistic health collaborative for Black women. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and trauma, domestic violence, and anxiety and depression, she believes health is a radical act of social justice that can help change the trajectory of outcomes for Black people. As such, Brandi is dedicated to ensuring Black people have access to one of the most basic human rights—clean water.

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