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The City of Batavia can breathe – and drink -- easily. As many Upstate New York municipalities are scrambling due to new federal rules about fire hydrants and drinking water, the City of Batavia is in a beneficial position.

Sen. Charles Schumer this month sounded the alarm in asking the Environmental Protection Agency to delay a sudden fire hydrant mandate. The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act has been in effect since 2011 and municipalities were well aware of its regulations. But then the EPA made an announcement that surprised many.

“Unexpectedly and suddenly in October,” Schumer said to media recently in Syracuse, “the Environmental Protection Agency put up a new rule that said that hydrants are affected and as of January, our water districts throughout the country could not use the hydrants that didn’t meet the new regulations.”

“The assumption was that fire hydrants would not part of that law,” City of Batavia Bureau of Water Superintendent Matt Worth said. The same law, Schumer notes, does not apply to bath or shower drinking water.

Worth says the City of Batavia doesn’t have to worry.

“As far as the City of Batavia, it would not impact us,” Worth said. “You don’t have to change out your existing components. That’s not part of the law. Any of your existing brass doesn’t have to be changed out, just any new installations would have to be no-lead. We don’t have much of an inventory of new fire hydrants. We kind of buy them on an as-needed basis, so it’s really the distributors that would be impacted more so than us.”

The EPA argued that in times of emergency, hydrants could have to be used for drinking water which means they cannot contain lead. Brass is a key component of fire hydrants and most brass contains some amount of lead. Schumer says that even if current hydrants were used for drinking water, the amount of lead consumed would hardly elicit a medical emergency.

“It is something that would happen under a very rare occasion under emergency situations,” Worth said. “It does happen, but it is so, so rare and so infrequent that it would seem a little impractical to apply that to fire hydrants because that’s not their typical use.”

The new regulation would force many Upstate municipalities to replace new hydrants, leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted, which is why Schumer is asking for a delay in that portion of the legislation. Even manufacturers haven’t been able to keep up with the EPA’s newest rule, making the Jan. 1 deadline very daunting.

Worth says the City has been complying with the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act since its implementation by buying no-lead brass products.

A motion to suspend the hydrant rules passed the House unanimously earlier this month.

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