CNN — The US Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a rule that would require water systems across the country to replace millions of lead service lines within 10 years.

The rule would accelerate progress toward the Biden administration goal of removing 100% of lead pipes; lead exposure is linked to significant health and developmental problems, especially for children. The EPA proposal said lines must be replaced within 10 years, regardless of the lead levels in tap or other drinking water samples. Additional time could be allowed “in limited circumstances” for some systems that need complete system-wide line replacements, the proposal said.

The Safe Drinking Water Act authorizes EPA to establish regulations for public water systems, and the Lead and Copper Rule was established in 1991 to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water. It was revised in 2021, generally with more detailed and stringent requirements.

The new proposed rule would further strengthen the ways the rule targets lead in drinking water by improving how water systems are tested for lead levels and lowering lead action level, or the threshold that requires additional compliance activities. Water systems would also have to show consistent progress toward replacing lead pipes, with a minimum of 10% of lead pipes replaced each year and minimal exceptions. The EPA can enforce regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act with civil penalties or fines.

“We cannot survive without water. Yet for millions of homes, for millions of children, their water has been delivered by a poisonous straw,” Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician and clean water advocate, said during a briefing hosted by the EPA.

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