EPA to require cities to replace lead water pipes within 10 years

lead pipes

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to prevent another health crisis like the one caused by lead pipes in Flint, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. by requiring that cities replace all lead water pipes within 10 years, The Associated Press reported.

The amount of lead in the water will not matter when it comes to the removal, but extra time to meet the decade-long deadline could be considered “in limited circumstances”, CNN reported.

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The federal agency said that replacing lead pipes would result in higher IQ scores for children and reduce heart disease and high blood pressure in adults, the AP reported. But according to The New York Times, it would cost between $20 billion and $30 billion, with some of the roadblocks including rising costs, supply chain issues, labor shortages and lack of complete building records, detractors of the plan said.

Lead pipes were used throughout the history of the U.S., but when they corrode, lead can leech into the water supply. Too much lead can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system and brain, especially in infants and children, leading to behavioral disorders and lower IQs, the Times reported.

Excessive lead can also cause a higher risk of cancer, stroke and kidney disease, CNN reported.

Lead cannot be seen, tasted or smelled, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician and clean water advocate, told CNN.

This isn’t the first time the Biden Administration has pushed for replacing water pipes. The administration had said that it wanted the approximately 9 million lead pipes that connect the country’s homes to water mains buried in streets removed quickly.

Because lead pipes are most frequently found in older and industrial cities, water contaminated with lead, which makes water undrinkable, disproportionately affects cities with large Black populations, such as Flint, the AP reported. The administration has called it an injustice and is pledging to make drinking water safe.

“We’re trying to right a longstanding wrong here,” said Radhika Fox, head of the EPA Office of Water, according to the AP. “We’re bending the arc towards equity and justice on this legacy issue.”

This is also not the first time the EPA has regulated lead in drinking water. In 1991, the agency enacted the first regulations under the Safe Water Drinking Act, but those rules had loopholes, some experts claim. The regulations also have not been enforced, allowing cities to ignore the issues, the AP reported.

The Trump Administration also tried to combat lead in drinking water in the days leading up to the end of former President Donald Trump’s term by updating the act, CNN and the Times reported. The government required utilities to make changes when lead levels were too high and required the testing of water at day care centers and schools. Cities were to map where their lead pipes were by October 2024.

In addition to replacing lead pipes nationwide, the agency is also lowering the amount of lead which would require utilities to take action and will encourage cities to inform the public better about when water lead levels are too high.

While the regulations were announced Thursday, they won’t go into effect for a while. The public will be permitted to comment on the changes, with the final version released next fall and a waiting period before they are enacted.

The EPA has not stated who will have to pay for the pipe replacement, but the agency is encouraging utilities to foot the bill. The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies said there may be roadblocks for getting the work done, including getting permission from homeowners to do the work and the cost, the AP reported. About $15 billion would be covered by the 2021 infrastructure law, the Times reported.

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