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White House unveils plan to replace lead pipes in U.S., set new water quality standards

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Volunteers distribute cases of bottled water at City Hall in Flint, Mich., on March 12, 2016. Flint residents turned to bottled water after the city's drinking water was found to be contaminated with lead after the source was switched to the Flint River in 2014. File Photo by Molly Riley/UPI
Volunteers distribute cases of bottled water at City Hall in Flint, Mich., on March 12, 2016. Flint residents turned to bottled water after the city's drinking water was found to be contaminated with lead after the source was switched to the Flint River in 2014. File Photo by Molly Riley/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 16 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden's administration on Thursday announced that it's spending almost $3 billion from the new bipartisan infrastructure plan to replace old water pipes nationwide and setting new limits for the amount of lead that's acceptable in drinking water.

The White House unveiled the plan, which details efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to improve the quality of service lines and water treatment.

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Under the plan, all aging, lead pipes will be removed from homes over the next 10 years. Higher levels of lead and heavy metals in drinking water have been linked to developmental and neurological issues.

The plan includes more than a dozen actions through 10 federal agencies that would establish priorities for pipe replacements in homes, schools, child care centers and other facilities.

RELATED Infrastructure bill includes $15B to fix dangerous lead water pipes

"All Americans deserve to drink clean water, breathe clean air and live in healthy homes," the White House said in a statement. "However, lead in drinking water pipes, faucets, paint and walls threatens the health and well-being of American families and children across the country.

"The Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and countless experts agree there is no known safe level of lead in a child's blood."

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Multiple U.S. cities have discovered higher levels of lead in drinking water in recent years, including Flint, Mich., which found the problem after switching over water sources in 2014. The crisis lasted for five years.

Lucy Norman, 6, and her dog Rory watch as volunteers deliver cases of bottled water in her neighborhood in Flint, Mich., on March 5, 2016. File Photo by Molly Riley/UPI

"Over the past year, I have visited with and heard from communities in Chicago, Flint, Jackson and many other areas that are impacted by lead in drinking water," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

"These conversations have underscored the need to proactively remove lead service lines, especially in low-income communities. 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."

Officials said the administration will work with local and state officials to accelerate removing the lead pipes. The EPA will contribute $2.9 billion from the infrastructure law, and officials said another $350 billion could be used from the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund created by Biden's American Rescue Plan, which was passed in March.

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The funds will be used to replace lead service line and lead faucets and fixtures, establish regional technical assistance hubs to fast-track removal with labor unions and local water agencies and award grants to remove lead paint and other home health hazards in low-income communities.

Officials say Biden's Build Back Better Act, which has passed the House and is being debated in the Senate, could provide additional funds for the water improvement efforts.

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