Schumer: LI Spent Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars on Fire Hydrants That Must be Thrown Out After January 2014

Suffolk County Water Authority Alone Estimates They Will Have to Throw Out $450,000 Worth of Stock and Spend Even More in Ratepayer Money to Buy New Hydrants That Comply to EPA Standards

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Garden City, NY - December 12, 2013 - Today, at the Garden City Park Water District, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to delay a sudden mandate on local municipalities that will force cities, towns and municipalities across Long Island to throw out and replace over $450,000-worth of brand new fire hydrants and parts after January 4, 2014. Schumer explained that on October 22nd, 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. This rule will require municipalities to discard their fire hydrant stockpile and purchase new ones, costing ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. 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 – which cost up to $1,000 or more a piece – 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 across Long Island 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 ratepayer 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 this week that will add fire hydrants to the list of devices that are already exempt. 
“In the final seconds of the game, the EPA has released guidance for a 2011 law and applied unexpected standards to fire hydrants – based on the rare occurrence that they are used for drinking water - that could cost municipalities across Long Island hundreds of thousands of dollars come January. The EPA’s absurd interpretation of the reduced lead standards will force municipalities to throw out and replace their current stockpile of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fire hydrants without any discernible safety benefit,” said Schumer. “The EPA simply must grant a waiver for existing fire hydrants so that Long Island cities, towns and municipalities can use what’s in their inventory, and provide a transition period for municipalities, hydrant manufacturers and others to prepare for these new rules.”
Schumer continued, “If the EPA can’t do this voluntarily – and soon – then 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 these reduced lead standards.”
Schumer was joined by Long Island Water Conference (LIWC) Chairman Michael Boufis (Bethpage Water District), LIWC 1st Vice-Chairman Michael Levy (Garden City Park Water District), Suffolk County Water Authority Chairman James Gaughran, and multiple superintendents from various water districts across Long Island.
On October 22nd, 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 Long Island cities, towns and municipalities should be given enough time to use up their already-purchased equipment before they are forced to comply with the new interpretation.  Suffolk County Water Authority alone estimates they will have to throw out $450,000 worth of hydrants and hydrant parts, and spend even more in ratepayer money to buy new hydrants that comply to EPA standards. It will also take hundreds of man hours to order and replace the stock already in existence. The situation in Nassau is similar, with hundreds of municipalities facing the reality of having to throw out thousands of dollars’ worth of hydrants they currently have in storage.
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 hydrants meet standards for effectiveness of a hydrant’s fire-fighting capacity. In addition, this rule change would cost fire hydrant distributors such as Pollard Water, a New Hyde Park-based business that has been around since 1837, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock and severely impact their business. Schumer said this is another reason to provide more time to draw down existing inventories, and to enforce compliance.
Schumer made clear that if the EPA does not act quickly and voluntarily, he will consider legislation to exempt hydrants from this new standard.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is below:
Dear Administrator McCarthy,
I write concerning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy interpretation released on October 22, 2013 in which the EPA revealed for the first time ever that fire hydrants installed after January 4, 2014 must now comply with new restrictive standards for lead content in drinking water which places a significant hardship on local communities and public safety.  Ensuring our nation’s drinking water infrastructure is safe for consumption is vital and that is why I supported the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act of 2011 which provided a three year transition period for EPA to work with industry, communities, and stakeholders to implement these new lead drinking water provisions.  Yet the EPA’s new fire hydrant determination only provide communities weeks to meet the January 4th deadline and will force them to throw away millions of dollars’ worth of spare hydrants and hydrant parts now in inventory stock yards. 
Municipalities and water authorities across New York alone have spent millions of dollars in rate payer money on existing fire hydrant inventories which would now be rendered obsolete on January 4th under this interpretation, placing a tremendous hardship on many financially strained communities who cannot realistically use down their inventories in only one month’s time.  Moreover, not only are communities facing the prospect of scrapping or retrofitting their entire inventory, many are concerned that current hydrant manufacturers and distributors simply do not now produce compliant hydrants and hydrant parts in sufficient enough quantities to meet fire and public safety needs if replace hydrants now in inventory cannot be to replace broken hydrants after January 4th.    
Concerns associated with lead are generally a matter of long-term exposure and in the rare instances when hydrants are used during emergencies or exceptional circumstances as a potable water source, they are typically used for a few hours or days and not for long-term durations.   
Therefore I ask that EPA work with communities and stakeholders to revise this interpretation to allow existing inventories to be use and to extend the compliance date to allow sufficient time for communities to transition to new hydrants.  The EPA should also consider conducting a formal rule making process before implementing this change to ensure current hydrant manufacturers are able to produce hydrants and parts that will function properly and that meet these new regulations in adequate quantities to ensure public safety.
Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator