The White House is launching a new push to help states remove lead pipes that carry drinking water

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday announced plans to accelerate the use of funds from the Infrastructure Act to replace lead plumbing in underserved communities, with a focus on Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin starting this year.

The four states, each led by Democratic governors, will be part of the Lead Service Replacement Accelerators program in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor.

The government said it was a way to “drive progress” in using Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds, which are earmarked for the removal and replacement of lead pipes that carry drinking water to homes and schools. Exposure to lead in drinking water, particularly in children or pregnant women, can cause permanent neurological damage.

“Our Lead Service Line Replacement Accelerators demonstrate our commitment to ensuring every community has access to safe, clean drinking water,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Friday.

“By leveraging the historic investment made possible by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, we are one step closer to President Biden’s vision of 100% lead-free water systems for all.”

aid to communities

The new initiative aims to provide “hands-on assistance” and technical assistance from EPA to guide communities through the process of removing lead service lines. This support may include help filling out federal grant and loan applications or expertise in finding workers and contractors.

According to the White House, as many as 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and daycares have lead service lines.

Communities set to participate in the new plan include:

East Newark and Newark, New Jersey Erie County and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Edgerton, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Wausau, Wisconsin

“It should be a right of every inhabitant of this earth and certainly our country to have clean water, let’s just start with that. Then let us understand, because unfortunately many are unaware that it is not a right guaranteed to all residents of our country,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at the Accelerating Lead Pipe Replacement Summit held at the White House on Friday.

“In many communities, families, children and parents cannot have the confidence that when they turn on a faucet and clean water comes out. And I think we can all agree that nothing about it should be seen as a luxury or an option,” Harris said during the keynote conversation with Regan at the summit.

Invited guests attending the summit included mayors, philanthropic organizations, advocacy groups and community leaders.

Harris sent a letter to US governors urging them to join a broader, overarching coalition called the Biden-Harris Get the Lead Out Partnership.

So far, it has brought together 123 municipalities, water companies, community organizations and unions who have agreed to use federal funds to replace lead pipes, according to the vice president’s office.

“We have work, nonprofits, our agencies and the private sector, all of which are here with one goal and that is to get lead pipe out of all of our communities,” Regan said Friday.

How the funds are divided

The government has earmarked $15 billion in infrastructure funding for EPA over several years to be shared among states for core service line replacements.

Another $11.7 billion went to the EPA’s state revolving fund, which would support a number of water quality projects, including lead pipe replacements.

In 2022, the government allocated some of the funding to the states and territories to cover lead pipe repairs for the next five years.

The states with the highest allocations were California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and Massachusetts.

“Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and water, but far too many communities here in Pennsylvania suffer from old and obsolete lead plumbing that is threatening the health of our children and families,” Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said in a statement be included in the Accelerator program on Friday.

“My administration stands ready to work with President Biden, Vice President Harris and our federal partners to make life-saving investments that bring clean drinking to families across the Commonwealth, particularly in communities that have been left behind for too long.”

The 2023 allocations are expected to be announced in the spring after the EPA released its latest statutory assessment of drinking water infrastructure requirements and survey, according to the agency.

Some advocacy groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, criticized the breakdown of last year’s funding, arguing that states with the most lead pipes — such as Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio — received less funding per replacement than states with fewer lead pipes .

“Every state has lead service lines, but some have significantly more than others. The highest concentration of lead utility lines supplying water to homes is in the upper Midwest and Northeast states and Texas,” wrote Cyndi Roper of the NRDC in July.

Risks of lead poisoning in childhood are not equal

Not all children and families are equally vulnerable to lead exposure. The risk is greater for those living in low-income households and in older homes where lead plumbing, plumbing, and lead-based paint have not been replaced or rehabilitated.

Research from 2021 continues to show that black children and children in low-income communities consistently have higher blood lead levels than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

“It’s up to communities to hold our elected officials accountable [for] Implementation of the infrastructure law. It’s up to utilities to share what they need to ramp up their lead service line [replacement] programs. Most importantly, it’s up to our government agencies, mayors and governors to act with a sense of urgency to prioritize the removal of each and every lead service line,” said Deanna Branch of the Milwaukee-based Coalition for Lead Emergency the summit at the White House on Friday.

Branch was joined on the podium by her 9-year-old son, Aiden, who was hospitalized at the age of 2 with lead poisoning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no level of lead is safe for children.

The CDC estimates that about half a million children in the United States have elevated levels of lead in their blood, meaning the amount of lead found on a blood test is higher than most other children.

Some of the most common sources of exposure are lead paint in older residential buildings, water carried through lead pipes, soil and dust near industrial sites, and imported toys or jewelry.

Children under the age of 6 are vulnerable to potentially lasting effects of lead exposure, including lower IQ, behavioral problems, developmental delays, and learning disabilities, because of their hand-to-mouth behavior and developing nervous system.

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