Savannah Hulsey Pointer, FISM News
The Biden administration announced plans to release $2.9 billion of infrastructure bill funds to go toward lead pipe removal and enact harsher rules about lead exposure, according to The Associated Press. The administration announced the initiative on Thursday, outlining their plan to reduce lead in drinking water, which will be spearheaded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Vice President Kamala Harris has been a vocal proponent of the plan, saying that the administration should look to eliminate every lead service line. The vice president alluded to more government jobs attached to the initiative, saying that the administration would create jobs across the country and undo the harm pollution has caused, particularly in minority communities.
“The challenge that we face is, without any question, great. Lead is built into our cities. It is laid under our roads, and it is installed in our homes,” Harris said in remarks at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington.
Administration officials have estimated that around 24 million homes are at risk from lead paint, which is thought to be a dangerous exposure even at low levels. That’s in addition to whatever might be absorbed through water running through contaminated pipes.
“The White House estimates between 6 million and 10 million U.S. households and 400,000 schools get water through lead service lines, which connect buildings to the water main and can leach particles of the neurotoxin into drinking water and potentially cause severe developmental and neurological issues — especially when consumed by children,” the AP reported. “In recent years, the risks facing cities with lead service lines have come into focus, most notably after the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.”
Currently, the EPA is focused on pumping up their lead-in-water rules, all while allowing the previous administration’s overhaul of the lead regulations to move forward, according to official statements on Thursday.
“The science on lead is settled — there is no safe level of exposure, and it is time to remove this risk to support thriving people and vibrant communities,” said EPA administrator Michael Regan in a statement.
According to the AP, The Trump-era rule dictated that every public water system would need to replace 3% of their lead service lines each year if lead levels exceed 15 parts per billion. While some experts felt that was an unacceptable level of gains, the Trump administration said at the time they made the plan so that it would eliminate loopholes that allowed public water systems to avoid replacing the offending pipes.
Senior attorney with Environment America, John Rumpler, said the Biden EPA plan is “long-overdue and an indispensable step toward securing safe water.” The lawyer also said the EPA should set at least a 10-year deadline to replace lead service lines, which is what was done in the state of New Jersey this summer.
Deputy White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi, however, spoke to how difficult the administration believes mapping and locating the lead lines will be, saying that it can be hard to have any indication at all in older areas of the nation.
“A little bit of this… is mapping the topography of the mountain as we’re starting to climb it,” Zaidi said. “We have to go out there, we have to collect the data. There are communities around the United States where we do not know where the pipes are.”
Enthusiasm over the administration’s version of the project has not been universal, however, with some environmentally conscious activists saying that the 10-year goal for replacing lead lines is too vague and non-committal.
“The top priority must be to require removal of all lead pipes within the decade and to set a strict at-the-tap standard, which is the only way to prevent another generation of kids from drinking water through what is essentially a lead straw,” said Erik Olson, senior strategic director of health at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Good intentions won’t be enough to get the job done,” he added.