The White House on Friday announced plans to accelerate the use of Infrastructure Act funds to replace lead pipes in underserved communities, starting this year with a focus on Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. .
Four states, each led by a Democratic governor, will be part of the so-called Accelerated Service Substitution Program, in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor.
The administration has characterized it as a way to “promote progress” in using funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act dedicated to removing and replacing the leads that bring potable water to homes and schools. Exposure to lead in drinking water, especially in children and pregnant women, can cause permanent neurological damage.
“Our Lead Service Line Exchange Accelerator demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that all communities have access to safe, clean drinking water,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Friday. Stated.
“By leveraging the historic investments made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, we are one step closer to achieving President Biden’s vision of a 100% lead-free water system for everyone.”
The new initiative aims to bring “hands-on support” and technical assistance from the EPA to guide the community through the process of removing major service lines. That assistance may include help completing applications for federal grants and loans, or expertise in finding workers and contractors.
According to the White House, up to 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and daycares provide key services.
“Availability of clean water should be a right of every inhabitant of this planet, and most definitely our country. Many people may not be aware that this is not a right guaranteed to anyone, so let’s understand.
“Many communities, families, children and parents don’t take for granted that you can turn on the tap and have clean water,” Harris said during his keynote address with Regan at the summit.
Guests attending the summit included mayors, charities, advocacy groups and community leaders.
Harris sent a letter to governors across the country urging them to join a broader and more comprehensive coalition called the Biden Harris Get the Read Out Partnership.
So far, 123 municipalities, water utilities, community organizations and labor unions have agreed to invest federal money to replace lead pipes, according to the Vice President’s Office. Ann Arundel County Water District is the first member of the partnership.
“We have workers, nonprofits, agencies, the private sector, and we’re all here with one thing in mind: getting lead pipes out of every community,” Regan said. said on Friday.
How funds are split
The administration budgeted $15 billion in infrastructure funds over several years for the EPA to split lead service line replacements between states.
An additional $11.7 billion was directed to EPA’s state revolving funds aimed at supporting various water quality projects, including lead pipe replacement.
In 2022, the government will allocate a portion of the funds to states and territories to cover leadline amendments for the next five years.
The states that received the highest quotas were California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and Massachusetts.
Maryland received the 15th highest allocation and will receive more than $144 million for its overall efforts to invest in improving drinking water. The state will receive approximately $52 million specifically for lead pipe and service line replacement.
The 2023 quota is expected to be announced in the spring after the EPA publishes its latest legally required drinking water infrastructure needs and research assessment, according to the EPA.
Some advocacy groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, have argued that states with the most lead pipes, such as Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio, receive less money per exchange than states with fewer. He criticized the breakdown of last year’s funds. lead pipe.
“All states have major service lines, but some have far more than others. , and Texas,” NRDC’s Cyndi Roper wrote in July.
NRDC’s analysis found that Michigan and Missouri received approximately $151 per major service line, while 13 states received more than $2,000 per line.
The NRDC estimates that Maryland has 74,000 lead service lines and receives approximately $700 per line.
Childhood Lead Poisoning Risks Are Not Equal
Not all children and families are equally susceptible to lead exposure. Risk is greater in low-income households and in older homes where lead plumbing fixtures, pipes, and lead-based paint have not been replaced or repaired.
Through 2021, recent studies continue to show that black children and children from low-income communities consistently have higher blood lead levels than non-Hispanic whites.
“It is up to the community to hold elected officials accountable. [for] Implementation of infrastructure bills. It’s up to utilities to share what they need to power their key service lines. [replacement] program. Most importantly, government agencies, mayors and governors must act with urgency and prioritize removing all major service lines.
Branch took the podium with his nine-year-old son Aiden, who was hospitalized for lead poisoning when he was two.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level of lead for children.
The CDC estimates that about 500,000 children in the United States have elevated blood lead levels. That means the amount of lead detected in blood tests is higher than in most other children.
The most common sources of exposure include lead paint in old housing stock, water carried through lead pipes, dirt and dust near industrial sites, and imported toys and jewelry.
Children under 6 years of age may experience permanent exposure to lead due to hand-to-mouth behaviors and their developing nervous systems, including reduced IQs, behavioral problems, developmental delays, and learning disabilities. Because of their susceptibility, they have the highest risk of lead poisoning. .
Daniel E. Gaines contributed to this report.