WASHINGTON (AP) – On Thursday, the Biden administration took steps to reduce lead in drinking water by earmarking $ 2.9 billion in infrastructure bills to remove lead pipes and announcing EPA plans to impose stricter rules to limit exposure to health hazards.
Vice President Kamala Harris argued that the administration tried to eliminate all major service lines in the country, reiterating the administration’s pledge that the effort would create jobs across the country and begin to repair the harm that pollution has done to poor, often minority communities.
“The problem we face is undoubtedly great. Lead is built into our cities. It has been laid under our roads and installed in our homes, ”Harris said in a speech at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington.
The White House estimates that about 10 million U.S. homes receive their water through lead communication lines that connect buildings to plumbing and can flush neurotoxin particles into drinking water and potentially cause serious developmental and neurological problems, especially when consumed by children. In recent years, the focus has been on the risks faced by cities with top service lines, especially in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Officials said Thursday that while the EPA is looking at how to strengthen national lead-in-water regulations, it will move forward on renegotiating the rules of the previous Trump administration.
The Biden EPA requirements are expected to be completed by 2024 and will require the remaining lead drinking water pipes to be replaced “as quickly as possible.”
“The science of lead is over – there is no safe level of exposure, and it’s time to eliminate that risk to support prosperous people and vibrant communities,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
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Some environmentalists were enthusiastic about the administration’s announcement, saying the 10-year target to replace lead lines and other provisions are vague in terms of commitment and detail.
“The top priority should be to require the removal of all lead pipes within a decade and set a strict standard on the faucet, which is the only way to prevent another generation of children from drinking water through what is essentially a lead straw,” said Eric Olson, Sr. strategic director of health at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Good intentions are not enough to get the job done,” he added.
John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, called the administration’s plans “a long overdue and irreplaceable step towards ensuring safe water.” He also said the EPA should set a 10-year deadline for replacing major service lines, as it did in New Jersey in July.
A Trump-era rule stated that public water supplies must replace 3% of their main service lines each year if lead levels exceed 15 ppb. The rate is lower than the previous 7% requirement, but Trump administration officials said at the time that the rule eliminated loopholes that allowed water systems to avoid removing pipes and actually expedited the replacement process.
But environmental groups were critical, saying the removal might be too slow.
The Trump administration has also set requirements for water systems to prevent lead corrosion in drinking water pipes. And he updated lead testing to make sure the water samples used in testing come from water in lead pipes and not near a faucet – a move that experts say could push lead results to higher levels for many. utilities across the country.
Biden’s EPA said it is considering ways to strengthen key parts of the regulation, including the 15 ppb threshold.
Congress approved $ 15 billion to replace major service lines in the infrastructure bill – about a third less than the cost of replacing them nationally, according to the White House and water experts.
Administration officials highlighted additional efforts to limit exposure to lead, including additional tests for lead in childhood by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Housing and Urban Development grants to remove lead paint in public housing … The Treasury Department is also announcing that surplus COVID-19 relief funds could be used for projects to replace major service lines.
“In the 21st century, there is no reason people are still exposed to this substance, which poisoned people back in the 18th century,” Harris said.
The Phyllis contributed from St. Louis.