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Filter Out The Lead: A New Strategy For Eliminating Toxic Lead In Drinking Water

(Washington, DC): Lead exposure from drinking water is a deeply rooted regulatory and environmental justice issue in the United States. Recent news stories expose the most extreme cases, but this problem is an everyday reality that falls disproportionately on many low-income and minority communities. In the December issue of the Environmental Law Reporter’s News & Analysis, David Domagala Mitchell offers a straight-forward solution: reducing the risk of lead exposure at the tap.

In Preventing Toxic Lead Exposure Through Drinking Water Using Point-of-Use Filtration, Mitchell advocates for a refundable federal tax credit that would allow individual households to acquire point-of-use (POU) filtration equipment that safely removes lead, as well as new filtration requirements for nonresidential buildings. Mitchell’s proposed solution could have a powerful impact for generations to come. “A modest investment in POU filtration can prevent the devastating health effects of the next lead crisis,” writes Mitchell, and can proactively protect communities that already face dangerous levels of lead today.

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Mitchell argues that using filtration to reduce the risk of lead exposure at the tap is economical and effective, and will fill the current “regulatory gap.” Federal and state efforts to reduce risk for children and low-income communities have not been enough; the CDC reports that even low-level exposure for children can cause life-long cognitive and medical problems, yet the primary lead regulations, including the federal Lead and Copper Rule of the Safe Drinking Water Act, are insufficient. Moreover, maintains Mitchell, these standards are reactive rather than preventative—despite the medical consensus that policy should prevent childhood lead exposure—and they depend on unreliable testing programs. Recent state and federal efforts to replace corrosive lead-containing pipes will not correct the problem fast enough, and could take decades.

Mitchell’s proposal would cost Congress $10 billion if 100 million individuals took advantage of the tax credit, but nowhere near the estimated economic cost of $165-$233 billion from future lost earnings for children under 6 years old. And in comparison, the costs of maintaining and replacing service lines and other drinking water infrastructure could cost up to $1 trillion in the next few decades.

The article is available for download here.

Major David Domagala Mitchell is a Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Air Force currently serving as an environmental litigation attorney. He is available for interview.

The Environmental Law Reporter is published by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). Opinions presented in the Environmental Law Reporter are those of the author and not necessarily those of ELI or its funders. For general questions about the Environmental Law Reporter, please contact Rachel Jean-Baptiste at jean-baptiste@eli.org.