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Officials decry new EPA fire hydrant law

Long Island Water Commission first vice-president Michael Levy

Long Island Water Commission first vice-president Michael Levy of the Garden City Park Water District and Senator Charles Schumer look at fire hydrants that would be affected by the new Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. (Dec. 9, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

The Environmental Protection Agency should exclude fire hydrants from a new law that attempts to make drinking water safer, officials said Monday.

In October, the EPA released new rules aimed at making the nation's drinking water safer from lead, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). The rules included a new standard starting Jan. 4 on the amount of lead hydrants can contain, in the rare instance they would provide drinking water.

Schumer said if Long Island hydrants are not exempted, water districts will have to needlessly junk hydrants on hand and then it will cost about a million dollars to replace the stock with new ones. Additionally, it is problematic for hydrant manufacturers trying to make enough safe, compliant hydrants in time to meet the deadline.

"There is no reason fire hydrants should be included in safe water legislation," Schumer said in a telephone interview. "People don't go outside every morning, turn on their fire hydrant and brush their teeth."

Calls and emails to the EPA Monday were not returned.

The ruling comes after the EPA in October issued its interpretation of the Congress-authored Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act of 2011, a law that Schumer praised. But he said the inclusion of fire hydrants is "absurd" and was never intended to be a part of it.

Schumer wants the EPA to issue a waiver for existing fire hydrants that municipalities have on hand so that they don't have to get rid of them or lose money, and he wants the EPA to pass new regulations that exempt fire hydrants altogether.

Schumer said if the EPA does not act soon, he would push in the Senate to pass bipartisan legislation already approved by the House, to add fire hydrants to the list of exempted devices, which also includes bathtub and shower parts.

Suffolk County Water Authority chairman James Gaughran said water authorities are thrilled Schumer has gotten involved in addressing this issue."If we get an exemption, that's fine; if we don't, we're happy to comply with the law," Gaughran said. "Just let us use what we have until we run out of it."

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