Biden administration proposes to require lead pipes to be replaced within 10 years

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The Biden administration on Thursday proposed a plan to require drinking water pipes that contain lead to be replaced within 10 years. 

The proposal would strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule and allocate $15 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to replace lead service lines in water systems across the country. 

Administration officials say President Biden is committed to replacing all lead pipes in the nation — an action that comes nearly a decade after the Flint water crisis. In 2014, nearly 100,000 people were exposed to elevated lead levels after the Michigan city switched its water supply, which caused lead pipes to corrode and contaminated the city’s drinking water.

There is no safe level of lead exposure. Children exposed to elevated lead levels can suffer physical and mental harm and neurological damage.

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“This is a public health concern that has unfortunately spanned generations and an issue that has disproportionately impacted low income and minority communities,” EPA administrator Michael Regan told reporters on a press call. “Everyone in this country should be able to turn on their tap for a glass of water and know that it’s safe to drink.” 

Clean water activist Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician whose research uncovered the Flint water crisis, called the new regulations a “game changer.” 

“This rule will create a measurable impact on the lives of our kids, also in the well-being and the global competitiveness of our nation,” Hanna-Attisha told reporters. “This also makes economic sense. We have paid the price of our inaction from decreased economic productivity, health care cost, education, across criminal justice costs, the list goes on. We will reap the massive societal savings of doing this important, proactive work. This rule is historic. It is a game changer for kids and communities everywhere.”

There are an estimated 9.2 million lead service lines that provide water to communities in the United States, according to the EPA. 

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Flint Water Plant tower

The EPA’s proposed rule would replace those pipes, improve corrosion control treatment in water systems, improve tap sampling and strengthen regulations to reduce lead exposure. 

Under the current rule, if 10 percent of water samples are found to have at least 15 parts per billion of lead, water systems are required to take mitigation action. The EPA’s proposal would reduce that threshold to 10 parts per billion. 

“Moving from 15 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion is a very significant public health improvement. It is going to compel a significant number of water systems to be taking interim measures like corrosion control,” said Radhika Fox, the EPA’s chief water regulator. 

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EPA Administrator Michael Regan

An EPA cost benefit analysis estimated compliance costs at $2.1 billion to $3.6 billion annually, while measuring benefits at $9.8 billion to $34.8 billion annually. Those benefits include preventing the loss of IQ points for children, avoided deaths and avoided heart disease for adults, which are “priceless,” Fox said. 

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Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, EPA will accept comments from the public for a 60-day period. On January 16, 2024, the agency will host a public hearing for verbal comments. 

“Getting the lead out means healthier children and healthier adults. It means less hospital visits and lower health care costs. And it means good paying jobs in our overburdened and underserved communities all across the country,” administrator Regan said. “We’ve already made significant progress, but this is only the beginning. Every day we are one step closer to a 100% lead free future for all. And our agency will not rest until we make this dream a reality.”

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