U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Monday that millions of dollars’ worth of new fire hydrants and parts will have to be thrown away around the state, including some $300,000 worth of Erie County Water Authority equipment, because of new federal rules.
Schumer released a letter he sent to the Environmental Protection Agency, saying that the scheduled Jan. 4 implementation of the rules, aimed at reducing lead content in drinking water, should be delayed because of the short time period to comply.
The EPA did not release its regulations implementing the 2011 law until Oct. 22.
Schumer also said that Congress never intended to have the 2011 Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act apply to fire hydrants.
It specifically exempted bathtub and shower parts from the law reducing allowable lead levels in plumbing that carries drinking water, but the EPA decided that because hydrants might be used for drinking water on rare occasions, they could not be exempted.
Schumer said any use of hydrants for drinking water would be in emergency situations and would not last long. He said health impacts from lead in water arise over long periods of time, such as drinking from the same lead-containing faucet for years.
“The EPA’s absurd interpretation of the reduced lead standards will force municipalities to throw out and replace their current stockpile of fire hydrants without any discernible safety benefit,” Schumer said in a prepared statement.
He added that if the EPA doesn’t back down on its own, “I will push the Senate to pass bipartisan legislation, which has already passed the House, to add fire hydrants to the list of devices that are already exempt from the reduced lead standards.”
“Sen. Schumer, much to his credit, heeded the clarion call of the folks in the water business,” said Robert Gaylord, executive director of the Erie County Water Authority.
The Erie County Water Authority has 73 new hydrants stockpiled for replacement purposes, 200 old hydrants that are used for parts, and $100,000 worth of new parts. In all, the authority has $309,000 worth of equipment stored that would have to be replaced to comply with EPA’s rules.
Schumer said local governments should be given time to use up their existing inventories of equipment, and he also said he doubts manufacturers will be able to meet the resulting demand for replacements by Jan. 4.
“There’s no forge in the country that makes this kind of parts, I’ve been told,” Gaylord said. “That just raises the regulation to a new level of insanity.”
Gaylord said he wasn’t sure how long it would take the Water Authority to use up its existing stockpile.
Other municipalities also have stockpiles of noncompliant hydrants. Niagara Falls has 33 hydrants and $50,000 worth of parts; the City of Lockport has 10 to 12 hydrants and $10,000 worth of parts; and North Tonawanda has seven hydrants and $6,000 in parts.