We all know how the story goes. Many years ago, water utilities used lead and copper materials to construct their distribution systems. Lead and copper were cheaper than the alternatives and provided a material that was pliable enough to easily form bends and goosenecks. These materials were so popular that at one point it was estimated that 70% of US cities were utilizing lead and copper in their systems. Then came the realization of adverse health effects caused by lead leaching into the water through corrosion and the subsequent testing procedures given to water utilities and their laboratories henceforth. These procedures have come to be known as the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and have set the precedent for lead and copper monitoring and control in drinking water. The LCR has been a work in progress with the latest revisions coming in 2019 and new revisions set to hit the docket on a fast-approaching date to be determined. So, lets briefly examine the proposed revisions and how they might affect water quality laboratories.
Water utilities will be relied upon to identify what areas of their systems are most impacted by lead service lines (LSL’s). While most probably have this information and know what homes were built prior to 1986, when lead piping for drinking water distribution was prohibited, they will be given 3 years from the rule publication date to document the information with updates to the documentation coming on an annual basis. This may fall on laboratories to devise a sampling plan that fits their scope and limitations and to find suitable sites that fall within the sample site restrictions given to them by their governing body. Water utilities will need to enhance their treatment conditions with a new trigger level for lead coming at 10 ug/L. If the trigger level is exceeded corrosion control treatment (CCT) may have to be examined and adjusted. Parameters that may have to be examined and adjusted are calcium hardness and phosphate inhibitors with the possibility of CCT optimization coming through additional laboratory testing. Increased sampling could strain laboratory personnel more then ever as sample site number, sample number, and enhanced restrictions on sampling may occur. Revisions may call for follow up samples taken from adjacent sites when a sample exceeds 15ppb. This would be in addition to a follow-up sample being collected at the original site. Of course, site accessibility will be a major component when testing frequency is increased. An emphasis will also be put on school buildings to ensure that children are not being exposed to dangerous levels of lead contaminated drinking water. As part of the new revisions, a water utility would be required to sample and test 20% of the schools and childcare facilities located within the service area per year. For larger systems this could be hundreds of extra samples annually but excludes facilities built after 2014. While these items were some of the many talking points that would affect water quality laboratories, it doesn’t take into consideration the burden put onto other facets of the water utility business. These revisions are sure to bring about many questions and concerns for water quality laboratories and it may be astute to plan ahead and to ponder what laboratories can do to outpace the increased work load. For some it may be budgeting for increased personnel or instrumentation and for others it may be as simple as examining their protocols that are currently being used. There are changes on the horizon nonetheless and the impact it may have on laboratories is a topic that shouldn’t be procrastinated upon.