WASHINGTON — Congress on Friday sent President Barack Obama a bill that would significantly reduce exposures to lead in drinking water.
Lead contamination can pose serious health risks, particularly to pregnant women and children. It has been linked to health problems such as kidney disease, hypertension, reduced IQs in children, and brain damage.
The House approved the bill on a 226-109 vote. The Senate approved it earlier on a voice vote.
The bill would set federal standards for levels of permissible lead in plumbing fixtures that carry drinking water, with allowable lead content going from the current federal level of as much as 8 percent to 0.25 percent. It limits the amount of lead that can leach from plumbing into drinking water.
Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., said the new standards would nearly eradicate lead in facets and fixtures. He cited Environmental Protection Agency estimates that lead from these sources contribute to up to 20 percent of human exposure.
The bill becomes effective 36 months after it is signed into law. It would then prohibit manufacturers and importers from selling plumbing fixtures that don't meet the new standards.
"In 21st century America, we have a responsibility to do more to protect our children and families against lead exposure acquired through plumbing systems," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who authored the bill in the House. "Lead-free plumbing is an existing alternative, it's affordable and it's time we adopt it across the nation." Health studies, she said, have estimated that lead exposure costs the nation $43 billion in lost time and health costs.
"Lead, a toxic heavy metal, does not belong in our drinking water," Senate sponsor Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Thursday night after the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote. "This is a major step forward in the effort to eliminate lead in our drinking water."
Almost all the opposition came from Republicans. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., questioned the necessity of passing a federal law when major producers of faucets are already making safer equipment and some states are imposing their own tough standards.
He added that "people should not mistake this bill as a panacea when studies have shown that lead service lines are the biggest culprits of leaked lead."
An Associated Press investigation last year found that contaminants have surfaced at public and private schools in all 50 states, with lead among the most frequent causes of unsafe water.
Last month residents in New York City were told to run their taps for 30 seconds before drinking water after tests showed elevated lead levels in some older buildings.
"Lead in drinking water poses a dangerous health risk, particularly to pregnant women, infants and children, and it is refreshing to see that members of both parties in the Senate and House can agree on making the water we drink every day safer," said Mae Wu, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.