EBMUD effort results in "Get the Lead Out" federal law signed by President Obama

Four years ago, the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors boldly launched a campaign to persuade California lawmakers to require manufacturers to remove lead from faucets and other water fixtures. It was given little chance of success in the face of strong opposition.

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which determines the national lead content standard, currently allows up to 8 percent lead content for faucets and other plumbing fixtures, and limits the amount of lead that can leach from plumbing into drinking water. But health studies show that much smaller amounts of lead exposure can have serious impacts on children and adults, including kidney disease, hypertension, hearing loss and brain damage.

EBMUD’s Board of Directors, led by the relentless efforts of Board members John A. Coleman, Doug Linney and William B. Patterson, worked closely with Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, D-Oakland, who sponsored California legislation AB 1953.

“The impacts of lead exposure on children last a lifetime and are irreversible,” said Patterson, president of the EBMUD Board at the time. “This law helps to ensure that children’s exposure to lead will be significantly reduced.”

The new laws began with some disturbing observations by EBMUD staff in Oakland in 2004. As the District replaced plumbing fixtures in its system, engineers realized outdated state and federal laws permitted excessively high levels of lead in plumbing parts, information they shared with the Board.

year later, the seven-member EBMUD Board of Directors sponsored California’s AB 1953 (Chan), which reduced the lead content standard for drinking water plumbing from 8 percent to 0.25 percent. AB 1953, the original “Get the Lead Out” legislation, became state law in 2006 and established the toughest drinking water plumbing lead content standard in the world.

Several states, including Maryland and Vermont, adopted similar lead restrictions after California and yesterday, the nation followed suit. President Obama signed into law a national “Get the Lead Out” bill sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Ca. Both bills contained identical language and like state legislation were the result of lobbying efforts by EBMUD.

Linney hails EBMUD’s staff for bringing this issue to light, “especially the machinists who proved it could be done. Drinking water plumbing technology has now been advanced significantly and lead-free plumbing is a safe and affordable alternative that has been adopted nationwide.”

This landmark public health legislation received the support of countless children’s health and public health organizations, hospitals, environmental and consumer protection advocates, in addition to state and national drinking water associations.