House thwarts attempts by EPA to regulate fire hydrants

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The House unanimously passed legislation Monday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring that all new fire hydrants be lead-free by early next year.

Democrats and Republicans rejected the agency’s rule, saying it goes too far.

The EPA issued a guidance in October saying that since fire hydrants are sometimes used to supply drinking water during emergency situations, they are covered under the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act. Thus, all new fire hydrants installed after Jan. 4, 2014 must be lead-free.

“No one is getting a steady supply of drinking water from the fire hydrant at the end of their street, so we should not add to the heavy burden our local governments with constrained budgets already experience,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, a New York Democrat. “We can all agree that our water supply and public health should be held to the highest standard, but reasonable fixes must always be considered if it looks like resources are going to be wasted.”

Lawmakers argued that the EPA guidance would put a financial burden on communities since lead-free fire hydrants are not commercially available. During the winter time, fire hydrants often break or need to be replaced.

The lead-free requirement would make it difficult to repair or replace fire hydrants — posing a public health risk.

“Water utilities have made it clear that they have two choices come January 4: fail to comply with federal law, or leave gaps in critical fire hydrant service,” Ohio Republican Rep. Bill Johnson said. “No one should ever face that choice.”

While lawmakers say that lead exposure is a concern, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act was never meant to apply to fire hydrants since they are seldom used as a source of drinking water.

“Closer to home — I heard from two municipalities in my district, Latham and Colonie,” Tonko said on the House floor. “Their local leaders were very concerned about the expense of replacing their inventory of fire hydrants and about problems that could arise if they were unable to service and replace hydrants in a timely manner.”

“I am told the average cost is as high as $2000 per hydrant,” Tonko added. “Without this fix, communities across the country would be spending millions to replace inventories of working hydrants.”

Shower valves are already exempted from lead-free requirements, and now fire hydrants will also be on that list.

The bill now heads to the Senate where House lawmakers hope it will be passed before the end of this year.

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