Schumer wants EPA rules delayed on fire hydrants

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer Monday called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to delay a new mandate on local municipalities, like the Cities of Dunkirk and Jamestown, that forces them to throw out and replace over $25,000 worth of brand new fire hydrants and parts after Jan. 4.

According to Schumer, on Oct. 22, the EPA released its interpretation of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act of 2011, and for the first time disclosed that fire hydrants will be subject to new reduced lead standards, due to the rare occurrence that hydrants provide drinking water. Schumer said that across the country, this took local water authorities, public safety officials, and hydrant manufacturers by surprise, demonstrated by the hundreds of hydrants – up to $1,200 or more apiece – that are sitting in their stockyards ready for installation.

Schumer also noted that members of Congress did not intend for hydrants to be included in these new reduced-lead drinking water standards when the law was written, noting that bath tub and shower parts are not forced to comply. Therefore, Schumer called on the EPA to exempt existing fire hydrants that were purchased by municipalities before the EPA released these unexpected guidelines. Schumer also urged a new transition period be established for municipalities to work in conjunction with manufacturers and fire departments, so that hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer dollars are not wasted and so that life-saving hydrants can be replaced when damaged after January 4, 2014. Cities, counties and local rate payers should not suffer for last minute, costly rule-changes, and Schumer noted that manufacturers also need more than a few months to test and produce compliant and safe fire hydrants. Schumer explained that in the event the EPA does not act soon, he would push in the Senate to pass bipartisan legislation approved by the House last week that will add fire hydrants to the list of devices that are already exempt.

On Oct. 22, the EPA released its interpretation of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act of 2011, making fire hydrants subjected to the reduced-lead standards of the law. Schumer explained that the interpretation took municipalities by surprise, who had been proceeding with the purchase of fire hydrants as they had been before the law, particularly given that bath and showers are exempt from this reduced-lead standard. Schumer explained that lead poisoning via drinking water usually occurs with long-term exposure, like drinking from the same kitchen faucet with high lead levels over the course of years. In the rare instance that hydrants are used during emergencies as a potable water source, they are typically used for a few hours or days, not for long periods of time. Now that these stocks of hydrants and parts have been deemed non-compliant, municipalities will be forced to throw out thousands of dollars’ worth of hydrants and parts, at cost to the ratepayer.

Schumer said that local water departments in Chautauqua County should be given enough time to use up their already-purchased equipment before they are forced to comply with the new interpretation. According to Chautauqua County officials, the City of Dunkirk has 3 hydrants in reserve, valued at $3,600 and the City of Jamestown has 18 hydrants in reserve, costing $21,600. In sum, $25,200 in stockpiled hydrants in Dunkirk and Jamestown would be rendered unusable come January.

Schumer explained that these municipalities should be given this time to draw down their existing inventories. Schumer also noted that manufacturers of fire hydrants are concerned that there is simply not enough time to ensure that new models of hydrants are compliant with safety and efficiency standards. For example, manufacturers have noted that hydrants must undergo third-party testing to ensure that hydrant’s meet standards for effectiveness of a hydrant’s fire-fighting capacity. Schumer said this is another reason to provide more time to draw down existing inventories, and to enforce compliance.