US to unveil plan for faster scrapping of lead pipes, paint

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The Biden administration plans to announce a new initiative on Thursday (Dec 16) to speed up the elimination of all lead pipes and lead paint over the next 10 years, removing a powerful toxin known to harm developing brains.

Under the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency will dedicate US$3 billion (S$4.1 billion) in funding from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to states, tribes, and territories for lead service line replacement in 2022.

The law will provide a total of US$15 billion to further that goal.

The funding builds on US$350 billion provided in a coronavirus relief package that states are able to utilise for lead pipes and the replacement of faucets and fixtures inside schools and childcare facilities, the White House said.

“No child, no family, no teacher and no Americans should drink water with lead or be exposed to lead paint in their homes,” a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters prior to the announcement. “We are announcing a new goal to accelerate the removal of lead pipes and paint in the next decade.”

When asked by reporters if the administration would require the removal of all lead service lines in 10 years, one official said it was too soon to say.

“We plan to propose a rule that will have a timeframe that is very close to this decade aspiration that the President has put out as our north star, but we cannot at this step in the rulemaking process commit to 10 years, 15 years etc. It is just how the rule making process works,” the official clarified.

Vice President Kamala Harris will announce the plans on Thursday during remarks at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington DC, the officials said.

The Trump administration finalised the first update of regulations of lead in drinking water in 30 years in December 2020.

It was a response to the 2014 Flint water crisis, when the predominantly Black city of 100,000 switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River to save money, unleashing water contamination that led to elevated lead levels in children’s blood.

The rule requires utilities to notify customers of high lead concentrations within 24 hours of detection – down from 30 days – and require testing for lead in elementary schools and childcare facilities for the first time.

It also requires water systems to identify and notify the public about the locations of lead service lines.

But environmental groups criticised the final rule for failing to speed up the replacement of lead pipes, a requirement they said was crucial to protect communities’ drinking water.

However, a senior Biden administration official on the call said that the Trump era rule would be allowed to go into effect while the administration works on a “far stronger” regulation since “the rule is more protective than the one that was in place.”

More on this topic

Lead is a neurotoxin that can damage the brain and cause behaviour and stomach problems.

There is no safe level of lead in drinking water and children are particularly vulnerable, according to the Centres for Disease Control. According to the White House, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and childcare centres are served by a lead service line or pipes and other fixtures.

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