President Joe Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is providing more than $50 billion in upgrades to the nation’s water infrastructure system, including $15 billion specifically to replace lead service lines over the next five years as the White House put pressure on the EPA to ramp up efforts to dismantle lead pipes. Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The Biden administration proposed new actions on Thursday to replace lead pipes in public water systems across the country in a continuing mission to eliminate lead poisoning among children and families.
As part of the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency intends to strengthen existing rules on lead and copper usage as the agency seeks to require water systems to replace lead service lines within 10 years the White House said, while the agency sought further public comment before moving ahead with the changes.
The proposed EPA rule changes would also increase tap water sampling requirements, require water systems to complete "comprehensive and publicly available" inventories of lead in service lines and "strengthen and streamline" requirements on additional actions ot reduce lead health risks in communities.
President Joe Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is providing more than $50 billion in upgrades to the nation's water infrastructure system, including $15 billion specifically to replace lead service lines over the next five years as the White House put pressure on the EPA to ramp up efforts to dismantle lead pipes.
An additional $11.7 billion from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund was also serving the effort, while the EPA has awarded $3.5 billion so far to communities that previously lacked funding to replace lead service lines inside old homes, buildings, and schools, according to the White House.
The administration also tapped $350 billion in funds from the American Rescue Plan and other Biden-era budget appropriations to help local- and state-level governments pay for the projects.
Since taking office, Biden has overseen the removal of more than 100,000 lead service lines across the country, with dozens of replacement initiatives underway in at least 23 states, the White House said.
The newest effort seeks to implement about half of overall lead pipe replacement in disadvantaged communities that have struggled for decades under aging water systems.
More than 9 million homes currently use lead pipes, particularly in low-income areas and communities of color -- reflecting racial disparities in public infrastructure investments throughout history.
At least 6 million lead service lines exist throughout the country, according to previous EPA estimates, while environmental groups say it's probably many more.
Lead gets into drinking water when pipes and fixtures corrode, especially in places with acidic or low-mineral water, the White House said, adding that old pipes, faucets and fixtures were the main sources of lead poisoning in the United States.
Lead exposure can happen through indoor dust from home repairs and as old lead-based paint deteriorates, while it can also come from lead-contaminated soil brought inside or tracked from worksites on clothing.
Lead was also impacting the food supply industry as contamination sources existed in the environment where foods are grown, raised or processed, the White House said.
A key finding by the EPA in October determined that emissions from some aircraft that operate on lead-based fuels cause or contribute to air pollution, posing a threat to public health.
Lead contains a powerful neurotoxin that has long been known to cause irreversible organ and cognitive damage in children and adults.
"There is no safe level of exposure to lead, particularly for children, and eliminating lead exposure from the air, water, and homes is a crucial component of ... advancing environmental justice," the White House said.
The proposal calls for increased tap water sampling, mandatory public inventories of lead service lines, and further actions to mitigate the immediate health risks.
Since January, the administration has taken several major steps to limit lead exposure while proposing changes to reduce harmful emissions.
The government also completed cleanup projects to reduce lead contamination, especially in soil, and worked on strategies for safer housing. Current efforts include building partnerships with affected communities while providing guidance to lower lead in processed foods, and to make workplaces safer from lead exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was also expanding blood testing for children covered under Medicaid.
In February, the president announced $500 million in infrastructure funds to help fix Philadelphia's broken water system, and earlier in November, the EPA loaned $336 million to the city of Chicago to replace lead pipes.