White House to Unveil Plan for Faster Scrapping of Lead Pipes, Paint

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
Water pipes, which are part of the State Water Project, are seen in Santa Clarita, California. (REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci)

The Biden administration plans to announce a new initiative on Thursday to speed 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 $3 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 $15 billion to further that goal.

The funding builds on $350 billion provided in a coronavirus relief package that states are able to utilize 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 time frame 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 rule-making 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, D.C., the officials said.

The Trump administration finalized 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 criticized 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.”

Lead is a neurotoxin that can damage brains and cause behavior and stomach problems. There is no safe level of lead in drinking water and children are particularly vulnerable, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

According to the White House, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and childcare centers are served by a lead service line or pipes and other fixtures.