$15 billion of federal money will go into funding a project that finds and replace as many old lead water pipes across the United States as possible—thanks to a newly enacted infrastructure bill from the Biden administration.
While early EPA bans on leaded gasoline and lead paint dramatically reduced the burden of lead poisoning in the nation, old lead water service lines can leach the toxic metal into the water supply, creating a particular danger to young children.
The EPA estimates that 400,000 schools and ten million homes rely on lead service lines for their water delivery.
“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, who hopes to pair the removal project with regulation that will see lead pipes forever beyond the reach of pipelayers and housing manufacturers.
Lead pipes can sometimes be harmless due to a protective coating of built-up minerals inside the pipe which separates its surface from the water running through it, but often buried and unremembered, changes in the chemical composition in the treatment of the water, writes one geochemist from Indiana University, can quickly erode the plaque and expose the drinker once more to the lead inside.
Government-run water delivery programs in Flint, Michigan in 2014 saw state regulators try and save money by cutting out the addition of phosphate to maintain the mineral plaques inside the pipes, a corner-cutting that notoriously ended in disaster.
The CDC, as part of the lead removal project, will be setting up a new childhood lead testing program, and regulators will use water tests to help zero in on the old water lines.
The federal plan is to ultimately replace a hundred percent of the lead service lines across the country, and the EPA is planning to write that figure into the regulations within the next few years.
That’s a hopeful and necessary move towards clean, healthy drinking water across the nation.
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