EDF Health

The fight to end lead poisoning in Rhode Island: A conversation with Laura Brion

The most common causes of lead poisoning in children in the US are lead-based paint and contaminated dust, which are mainly found in older housing. When present, lead pipes also present the single largest source of lead exposure through water. In Rhode Island, an estimated 80% of the housing was built before 1978, meaning it’s more likely to have lead-based paint hazards and lead pipes and put families, especially children, living in the homes at risk.

The Childhood Lead Action Project was founded in 1992 to take on this challenge, with the mission of eliminating childhood lead poisoning in Rhode Island through education, parent support, and advocacy. The organization does it all: workshops and educational outreach for a wide range of audiences, municipal and state-level advocacy to push proactive policies, grassroots campaigning, and more.

I sat down with Laura Brion, who started as a community organizer with the Childhood Lead Action Project and is now the Executive Director, to learn about her journey into the lead poisoning prevention world and what she sees ahead for her organization’s and community’s fight.   

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

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Lead pipes are in the news – Here’s why that matters

Sam Lovell, Communications Manager. 

“How many of you know, when you send your child to school, the fountain they’re drinking out of is not fed by a lead pipe?”

That stark question was posed by President Biden in a briefing following the announcement of the American Jobs Plan. The President’s historic infrastructure package includes $45 billion to fully replace lead pipes across the country. This has caused a surge of attention nationally on the problem of lead pipes, as administration officials and members of Congress voice support of the plan and local media outlets report on the implications of the investment.

And this attention is well-placed: across the country, an estimated 9.2 million lead service lines still provide water to US homes – putting children at risk of lead exposure and permanent harm to their brain development. While this has been an issue for far too long, this recent momentum – with the inclusion of funding in the American Jobs Plan and in several bills moving in both the House of Representatives and the Senate – is a promising sign that action is near.

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An issue nearly everyone agrees on: It’s time to fund lead pipe replacement

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director, and Sam Lovell, Project Manager.

As Congress looks to various infrastructure priorities in the coming months to get the country back on track, funding replacement of lead pipes should be an essential part of that effort. Recent polling from Black Millennials for Flint, BlueGreen Alliance and EDF demonstrates that there is strong bipartisan support for this initiative across party lines and regions of the country. Funding lead pipe replacement will protect health, create jobs, permanently improve water infrastructure, and reduce health inequities. It’s time for action.

And we are already seeing movement on this important issue, with legislation in the first few months of the new Congress in both the US House and Senate including lead pipe replacement as a key infrastructure priority.

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Lead pipe replacement in action: New case examples highlight innovative approaches to financing, outreach, and more

Sam Lovell, Project Manager.

See new case examples of state and local agencies, community groups, and other stakeholders tackling lead service line replacement challenges.

Across the country, over 9 million homes still get their water through a lead pipe, called a lead service line (LSL). Fully replacing LSLs poses a myriad of challenges – cost chief amongst them – but replacement is critical to protecting the public from the harms posed by lead exposure. It is also a necessary step to upgrading the country’s aging water infrastructure.

To assist water systems, elected officials, health professionals, and other key stakeholders with navigating these challenges to accelerating LSL replacement, the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative developed an online toolkit several years ago. EDF is a founding member of the Collaborative, which now has 27 members representing public health, water utility, environmental, labor, consumer, housing, and state and local governmental organizations. The toolkit includes everything from technical replacement information to recent LSL replacement news to equity considerations.

Now, the Collaborative is featuring case examples and interviews with states, water utilities, and advocates advancing LSL replacement with innovative strategies.

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Spotlighting advocates for environmental justice: LaTricea Adams with Black Millennials for Flint

LaTricea Adams credits her background as an educator with motivating and shaping her community advocacy work. For five years, Adams taught Spanish to middle and high school students in Nashville, Tennessee.

Now, she’s the Founder Chief Executive Officer and President of Black Millennials for Flint (BM4F) – a grassroots, environmental justice and civil rights organization with the purpose of bringing like-minded organizations together to collectively take action and advocate against the crisis of lead exposure specifically in African American and Latino communities throughout the nation.

Last month, we sat down (virtually) with Adams to learn about her experience advocating for environmental justice.

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EPA’s three new service line notices: Critical to transparency and accelerating lead pipe replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

This is the second in a series of blogs evaluating various aspects of EPA’s December 2020 revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and what they may mean for accelerating lead service line (LSL) replacements. The blogs cover: 1) new service line inventory; 2) three new LSL notices; 3) environmental justice implications; 4) communicating health effects of lead; 5) economic implications; and 6) sampling and trigger/action level.

Note that President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis directs agencies to review the former administration’s regulations and actions, including the Lead and Copper Rule. 

Three new notices required by the revised LCR from water systems to people with known or potential LSLs provide critical opportunities to build public support for LSL replacement by helping individuals better understand their situation and specific actions they should take. However, we recognize that, like all notices, many people may simply ignore them, especially if only delivered as an insert to a monthly or quarterly bill. We anticipate that notices will be most effective when coupled with broader outreach efforts and requirements that property owners share the notice with potential buyers and tenants.

As explained in a previous blog on the new service line inventories, water systems must assign all service lines to one of four categories. The rule treats three categories – “Lead,” “Galvanized Requiring Replacement,” and “Lead Status Unknown” – as known or potential service lines containing lead. People receiving water from a service line in any of these three categories must receive three new types of notices designed to prompt them to take steps to address the risk of lead in their drinking water pursuant to 40 CFR § 141.85(e) to (g). The three types of notices are:

  1. An annual notice;
  2. A notice of disturbance to service line; and
  3. A notice if trigger or action levels exceeded.

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