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New EPA regulation on fire hydrants could cost Syracuse and Onondaga County more than $400k

Beginning in the New Year, new federal regulations to reduce the amount of lead in drinking water would include banning fire hydrants with lead in them, which will cost local water districts hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - Beginning in the New Year, new federal regulations to reduce the amount of lead in drinking water would include banning fire hydrants with lead in them, which will cost local water districts hundreds of thousands of dollars.

$400,000 worth of new fire hydrants have been sitting in a stockyard ready for installation in Onondaga County, but a surprise ruling by the EPA has deemed them unsafe because some of the parts contain lead.

“Unexpectedly and suddenly in October the EPA put up a new rule that said hydrants are affected and as of January, our water districts cannot use the hydrants that don't meet the new regulations,” said Senator Charles Schumer.

The new regulations stem from a measure passed in 2011 called the "Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act." The legislation enacted requirements that change the amount of metal allowed in pipes or fixtures that touch public water.

In October, fire hydrants were included because the EPA says hydrants can be used in “emergency situations to provide drinking water.”

The lead from the hydrants are found in small brass nozzles in what fire officials call very small amounts, and with regular county testing, officials say the health impact is minimal.

“We flush the hydrants thoroughly. We test it and put a meter on it and it’s been flushed and it’s moving water,” said Michael Hooker, Executive Director of the Onondaga County Water Authority.

“Lead is damaging in our drinking water over a long period of time. You don't get hurt if there's a little lead in the drinking water or if you have one glass or a glass every month with lead in it. But if you drink it regularly year after year it can cause problems,” Schumer explained.

The regulation won't affect old hydrants that are already on streets, but newly installed hydrants and their fittings will have to be lead-free, which will cost the Syracuse and Onondaga County hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Onondaga County Water Authority owns and operates 14,000 hydrants and has over 200 hydrants in reserve, at a cost of $1,200 each. The City of Syracuse has 5,500 hydrants.

Both Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse keep parts and spare hydrants around in case of emergency. The EPA's regulation will force municipalities to replace their current stockpile of fire hydrants valued at about $400,000.

Schumer explained that every year, Onondaga County replaces several hydrants and with over 200 old hydrants in stock, it will take at least three years to completely use up their hydrants and existing parts inventory.

He proposes the EPA should grant a waiver for existing fire hydrants and provide a transition period for municipalities, hydrant manufacturers and others to prepare for the new rules.

Under the new regulations, new hydrants would need to contain less than .25% lead, but Hooker said many manufactures don't even have the parts yet to bring the hydrants up to code.

That is why Senator Schumer is proposing to exempt hydrants permanently from the legislation.

The House voted unanimously to override the EPA's ruling on Monday.

Senator Schumer says he hopes the Senate will pass the legislation in the coming weeks.

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