Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Monday encouraged fellow Cabinet members to help him develop a federal strategy to reduce the exposure of children to lead in drinking water.
He invited Cabinet members to a Feb. 15 meeting to discuss a strategy to update the nation’s water infrastructure.
The Cabinet officials belong to the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children, a coalition established in 1997 featuring the leaders of 17 agencies. The task force is headed by the EPA administrator and secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Lead poisoning is an insidious menace that robs our children of their intellect and their future,” Pruitt said in the letter, addressed to Cabinet heads including HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and others.
“For decades, efforts have been underway on many fronts to reduce and respond to lead exposure and contamination. Today, there are many separate efforts being undertaken by federal agencies. It is time to bring these efforts together and explore ways to increase our collaboration and partnerships with states, tribes and localities," he wrote.
Pruitt said he hopes they can work together to implement a strategy over the next one to three years to improve monitoring of children exposed to lead, improve the health outcomes of children who have already been harmed by lead, better communicate the dangers of lead, and advance research on the effects of lead.
Lead is a heavy metal that was used for decades in pipes and paint that is especially harmful to children, causing learning disabilities and slower growth.
Pruitt has said combating lead in drinking water is a top priority, declaring a “war on lead” more than three years after the crisis in Flint, Mich., started.
Pruitt is working with state and local officials to update the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, a federal mandate that dictates how communities test for lead in drinking water. The rule, which has not been revised in more than a decade, governs how much lead is acceptable in drinking water and what utilities must do if their water tests above the threshold.
Replacing lead pipes is the best way to combat lead, according to a 2015 report by an external group of drinking water advisers organized by the EPA.
Pruitt, in his December testimony to Congress, expressed concern over the cost — up to $30 billion — of replacing the country's 7 million to 11 million lines.