Flint's water crisis wasn't just a blip. Our water standards need bold change.
The public exposé of severe lead contamination in the tap water of Flint, Mich., has prompted national soul-searching, legal battles, some of which are ongoing, and beefed-up state rules governing lead in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose an update to the federal Lead and Copper Rule soon, a long-overdue step in strengthening federal regulation of drinking water.
But a troubling campaign is afoot to launder the history of Flint’s water crisis and to recast the episode there as a blip in an overall downward trend in U.S. children’s lead exposure in the past half-century. Some researchers have reproached advocates and other members of the scientific community for stridently sounding alarms over the threat posed by lead in water. Such pushback may encourage the EPA to suggest only modest updates to the Lead and Copper Rule, allowing millions of water-bearing lead service lines to remain in place.
We cannot let this happen. That the enormous toll of lead poisoning on public health was unknown or tolerated in the past does not now render tolerable the reality that many children today are exposed to high levels of lead in water, paint and soil, even if those levels represent an improvement from the mid-20th century. Federal law should not greenlight weak standards for lead in water. The Lead and Copper Rule needs bold and far-reaching change.