Explainer: Infrastructure deal targets lead pipes | Chicago News

A Denver Water worker prepares to do so on Thursday the 17th (AP Photo / Brittany Peterson)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The bipartisan infrastructure deal reached with President Joe Biden last week included a plan to clean up the country’s remaining lead pipes and utilities, which have posed a risk to contaminated water in millions of homes and schools for decades .

Lead can get into drinking water if water supply pipes or house connections corrode. It is considered harmful in all respects, and children are especially at risk as it can slow growth, cause anemia, and lead to learning and behavior problems.

Federal regulations over the years have banned the use of lead in plumbing systems, but some pipes and utilities that were built before the regulations came into effect have yet to be replaced. The White House says lead pipes continue to serve an estimated 400,000 schools and daycare centers and 6 to 10 million households.

A look at how lead pipes are addressed.


The Environmental Protection Agency requires public water systems to conduct annual water quality tests and to warn residents if lead contamination is detected.

If lead is detected, water suppliers have to replace pipes within 15 years and supply households with filters.

But then there are the utility lines that connect utility lines to homes and are often on private property. Checking for lead in these lines is generally the responsibility of the homeowner, although some cities and states provide funding to replace them. Local residents can hire a certified plumber to test service lines.

Some houses also have a private water supply, for example from wells. In these cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say residents should test water annually and contact their local health authorities if lead is detected.

Local health authorities or nearby water utilities that use groundwater also store information about local pollutants.


States and cities have worked for years to replace pipes and utility lines, but efforts in many places lagged, in part because of the high price.

The EPA estimates the average cost of replacing a leading service line at $ 1,200 to $ 12,300 for a homeowner and has made grants available to local governments.

Chicago, Denver and Newark, New Jersey, are among the cities that in recent years have given some or all of the funding to individual homeowners to get rid of senior service lines.


To reduce the risk of lead pipes, cities treat drinking water with additives that prevent it from corroding. Experts say that such measures helped reduce overall exposure, but did not eliminate the risk.


Black and Hispanic Americans have long been at a disproportionate risk of exposure to lead in drinking water and lead-containing paints, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, environmentalists and medical researchers.

Children living in homes built prior to 1978 or in households with incomes at or below the state poverty line are considered to be the most at risk.

Flint, Michigan’s lead-contaminated water crisis disproportionately hit the black residents who make up the majority of the city. When the city switched its water source to the Flint River in 2014, state regulators advised local officials not to treat the river water with anti-corrosion chemicals. This resulted in the river water being scraped off the city’s aging pipes and plumbing.

A report later published by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission found “systemic racism” at the core of the problems that caused the water crisis.


Under the Trump administration, the EPA amended an ordinance that requires water utilities to test for lead in wells and taps in schools and daycare centers. The Biden government has suspended and reviewed this rule, which would also have nearly doubled the time it takes utilities to replace pipes if they find lead in them.

Some experts say that water pipe lead tests are unreliable because results can vary based on factors such as:

These variables can cause the concentration of lead in water to “fluctuate widely,” said John Rumpler, director of Environment America’s clean water program, which is committed to protecting the environment.


Biden’s proposed plan had provided money to help determine the extent of lead leakage in the United States, which remains difficult to assess in many older cities and towns. However, experts say the $ 45 billion included in the proposal is a realistic figure for eliminating what is estimated to remain.

Money for pipe replacements would be distributed through water programs and grants made by the EPA to state and local governments and public water systems.


No. Water is not the only potential source of lead. Other sources include leaded paints found in homes built before 1978 and floors contaminated from industrial sources such as leaded gasoline.

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