In a vote for reducing lead exposure and for clean water, House passes lead pipe replacement amendment

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director, Health and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director.

Today is a good day in the fight against lead exposure: the U.S. House of Representatives has passed an amendment to provide $22.5 billion to replace lead service lines (LSL) – the lead pipes connecting the water main under the street to the home – across the country, prioritizing low-income and environmental justice communities. The amendment to the Moving Forward Act (HR 2), was sponsored by Representatives Tlaib, Kildee, Slotkin, Cicilline, and Moore, and it received bipartisan support.

Permanently removing sources of lead is critically important, as there is no safe level of lead exposure. From learning and behavioral problems in children to cardiovascular disease and hypertension in adults – lead exposure has major impacts on our health. And turning on the tap in a home with an LSL is essentially drinking from a lead straw.

That’s why EDF, with our partners, worked to strongly support this amendment. And that’s why we’ve been working on other initiatives that will accelerate replacement of these lead pipes across the country. With an estimated 9.3 million LSLs remaining in 11,000 communities, full replacement will be a massive challenge. But – as EDF has seen with our work recognizing states and communities taking action on LSLs – momentum is building. Our latest estimates show that:

Still, a key barrier for the vast majority of communities, even those already taking action, is cost. The passage of this amendment today – which approves 4.5 billion per year for the next 5 years for full LSL replacement – provides strong support for investing in public health and water infrastructure.

As we described in a March blog, investing in full LSL replacement across the country would:

  • Protect public health by enabling water systems to quickly begin eliminating LSLs to protect residents. We have already seen from Newark and Flint that with adequate funding, communities can dramatically accelerate full LSL replacement.
  • More than pay for itself by yielding more than $205 billion in societal benefits in reduced cardiovascular disease deaths over 35 years — a 450% return on the investment on top of the benefits in protecting children’s brain development. The savings per line is greater than $22,000 while the average costs for replacement, when the work is done systematically and efficiently, is less than $5,000.
  • Permanently improve infrastructure by facilitating critical upgrades to water distribution systems in a way that protects residents from increased lead in their drinking water when the LSL is disturbed.
  • Reduce disparities by enabling utilities to fully replace LSLs, thereby resolving equity concerns that utilities currently face in replacing the lead pipe on private property. Funding would allow utilities to avoid rate increases on residents that would disproportionately impact low-income communities. Without support, these residents have to choose whether to pay for an LSL replacement out-of-pocket or risk exposure to more lead – a practice shown to pose serious environmental justice concerns.
  • Create jobs for the plumbers and contractors who will perform the LSL replacements. This is shovel-ready work that involves construction and plumbing crews conducting the replacements. Utilities may not know where every LSL is located, but they know where most are and can get started quickly.

We thank Reps. Tlaib, Kildee, Slotkin, Cicilline, and Moore for their leadership and the members who voted for the amendment. Now it’s the Senate’s turn to protect public health, reduce inequities, and create jobs by funding LSL replacement nationwide.

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