Some good news in Washington, but much more work to do on lead

Jack Pratt is Chemicals Campaign Director

You may have missed it, but early Saturday morning there was some good news in Washington. After a long delay, Congress finally passed funding to help address the public health disaster in Flint, Michigan. This is good news, but much work remains to be done, in Flint and around the country.

Flint’s water problems started more than two years ago, when officials switched the city’s drinking water to a more corrosive source and stopped the corrosion control needed to protect the pipes. The result was serious contamination of Flint's drinking water. Thousands of children were exposed to significant levels of lead, a known toxic compound that can impair brain development and cause lasting damage.

Since then EDF has been working to improve policies federally and around the country to significantly reduce lead exposure from water.  We’ve also been working with a large coalition of public interest groups to support efforts to help secure this assistance for the people of Flint.

This past Saturday, at long last, Congress passed legislation that includes funding for Flint to repair and replace their water infrastructure and for health monitoring.  Earlier this year EDF hosted representatives of the Flint community at our Washington office during a fly-in to lobby Congress organized by our friends at National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and other advocates. We heard the stories firsthand that made clear this crisis is not over—that members of that community continue to live with the impact every day. It will take years of work for the people of Flint to get their water system back to normal and deal with the aftermath. But, we are proud to have played even a small part in helping secure this overdue assistance.

While the extent of the Flint water crisis is unparalleled, the threat of lead is by no means unique to Flint. In fact, up to ten million homes across the country get water through lead pipes – called lead service lines – that connect the main drinking water line in the street to our homes. A critical task ahead is ensuring that communities across the country address the threat of lead service lines and work to reduce the risk lead poses to children.

The legislation passed this weekend also included a new grant program for disadvantaged and small communities to reduce lead in drinking water. This provision, similar to one advanced by Sens. Ben Cardin and others, could be a critical foothold to help communities address the threat of lead in drinking water. Congress should make funding this new program a priority in the coming years.

More broadly, any effort to address the nation’s infrastructure should prioritize the removal of lead service lines. What investment could be more important than one that preserves the health of America’s children?

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