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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July 20, 2023 , 5:00 pm 6:00 pm EDT

The average film production uses as many as 39,000 single-use plastic bottles over a 60-day period. Removing single-use plastics from sets not only saves money, it can also help influence what is shown on screen and help transform our culture from viewing single-use plastics as “normal”— because they’re not. Through the power of collaboration, entertainment unions, advocacy organizations, and stars use their influence to divest from single use-plastic, both behind and in front of the camera.

During this thought-provoking discussion, we will explore the power of the entertainment industry to drive positive change to measurably reduce plastic pollution by eliminating single-use plastic in production. Joining the conversation will be Ellen Crawford, Actor and Union Activist; Asher Levin, Creative Director of the Environmental Media Association (EMA); and Emellie O’Brien, CEO & Co-founder of Earth Angel. The panel will be moderated by Jordan Howard, Founder of ShftSpace.

Please note: While this webinar may touch on the ongoing union strikes in Hollywood, these topics will not be central to the discussion. We will focus on elimination and reduction of plastics on set and in production.

Date: Thurs., July 20
Time: 2-3 pm PT | 5-6 pm ET
Click here to convert to your timezone.


PANELISTS

Ellen Crawford

Ellen Crawford has been a working actor all her life, on stage, television and film. Ellen is probably best known as Nurse Lydia Wright on the iconic series ER, and was happily reunited with George Clooney as her director on the film Suburbicon. Other films include the cult hit, The Man From Earth, the sequel MFE:Holocene, and Angel’s Perch. If you like playing “Where’s Waldo” you can spot Ellen and her husband multiple times in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car, as she was part of the cohort leasing EVs that were fighting their demise. She starred in the comedy series Boomers and recently appeared on The Rookie. Ellen has worked on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages, as well as national tours and regional theater across the country.

Ellen is a passionate union activist, having focused these many years of service on organizing and education, serving as chair of the SAG-AFTRA National Organizing Committee and as a vice president of the California Labor Federation.


Asher Levin

Asher Levin has over 20 years of experience in entertainment and NGOs. Asher has steered multiple films as a director, writer, and producer; co-founded powerhouse digital media content studio, BRAT; created hit shows for Snap, Facebook Watch, and Studio71’s hit podcast “The Shadow Diaries”; and worked on campaigns and branded content for Toyota, H&M, YouTube, and many more.

Along with production, Asher has worked in the non-profit space for two decades creating campaigns and branded content for Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, The Wilderness Society, BOLD Nebraska, League of Conservation Voters, and many more. As Creative Director at the Environmental Media Association, Asher has helped steer all content and marketing as well as produce annual events: IMPACT (a two-day business summit) and the 30 year-old iconic Environmental Media Awards. Asher prides his success on diverse projects, strong relationships, and creative collaborations with well known on-screen talent.


Emellie O’Brien

Emellie O’Brien (EOB) is the Founder & CEO of Earth Angel. A pioneer of the sustainable filmmaking movement, she has worked with over 100 major motion pictures and television series to reduce their environmental impact since 2011. Recent clients include the Emmy and Golden Globe–winning series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Aronofsky’s Oscar-winning film The Whale. Her sustainability leadership on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 contributed to it being acclaimed as “the most eco-friendly blockbuster in Sony Pictures’ history.” EOB holds a BFA in Film & Television from NYU, is a Climate Reality Corps Leader, an inaugural Tory Burch Foundation Fellow, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses alum, and 2018 Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 Rising Star. She also sits on the board of the Hollywood Climate Summit and the Production Initiatives Association.


MODERATOR

Jordan Howard

Jordan Simone Howard is a storyweaver and entrepreneur. Founder of ShftSpace, she has advised brand leaders, foundation officers, and politicians and is now cementing her legacy in story, art, education, and real estate development. Over the years, she’s led strategies and advised on cultural properties that continue to enable engagement verticals and policy + supply chain shifts for Fortune 500 brands, d2c models, grassroots nonprofits, and government entities.

Jordan’s partners have included Dell, Warner Bros., Hulu, Planned Parenthood, Microsoft, the U.S. State Dept, UN Foundation, the Binary Fountain, and many more. Jordan activates her intuitive abilities as a spiritual medium with her unique experience as an elite strategist and storyteller for connectivity, healing, and innovation. Her magic lies in interconnecting the language and learnings of generations with the cosmic possibilities of imagination and ancestry. Her work focuses on enabling verticals to invest, equip, and activate people and communities to solve problems for people and the planet.


RESOURCES

o Flip the Script on Plastics
o Environmental Media Association (EMA)
o Earth Angel
o ShftSpace
o SAG-AFTRA & Other Groups Launch Green Council Initiative To Promote Eco-Friendly Entertainment (Deadline)