Increased Monitoring of Lithium in Public Water Systems
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) recently added lithium to its list of contaminants in the proposed Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5), published on March 11, 2021. The UCMR 5 is the fifth list of unregulated contaminants to be monitored by public water systems that are suspected to be present in drinking water but do not have health-based standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). US EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rule before May 10, 2021, and will host two public webinars regarding monitoring requirements, analytical methods, and laboratory approval.
The decision to include lithium in the proposed UCMR 5 follows a recent United States Geological Survey (USGS) study that evaluated lithium in drinking water supplies across the US. The study found that approximately 45% of public supply wells and 37% of domestic supply wells have concentrations of lithium that could present a potential human health risk. Although USGS found that most lithium concentrations were likely from natural sources, it stated that “anthropogenic sources may be important in the future because of the rapid increase of lithium battery use and subsequent disposal” (Lindsey et al., 2021).
In spite of lithium’s long history in psychiatric medicine, the toxicological information that underlies lithium’s current risk-based drinking water levels are rather outdated and based on uncertain data. Moreover, how lithium interacts with chemicals used in LIBs remains largely unexplored. These issues could be particularly acute given the rapid technological battery innovations and because lithium is relatively mobile in the environment.
In light of the increased scrutiny that will likely be placed on lithium in drinking water supplies, several key issues may arise as mining, manufacturing, and recycling companies fill an escalated demand and take steps to minimize liability and risk:
Ability to differentiate between natural and anthropogenic sources of lithium.
Evaluation of potential ecological and human-health effects for lithium and other chemicals used in LIBs and other renewable technologies.
Develop a better understanding on how lithium travels through the environment and comes into contact with humans and other biological receptors.
Assessing these issues frequently requires extensive data evaluation and detailed knowledge of potential health risks and exposures. With decades of experience working on mining, chemical fate and transport, exposure, and human-health/ecological risk issues, Gradient is well positioned to help parties evaluate all of the potential regulatory and risk issues that may arise from increased industrial activities involving lithium.
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