Share on PinterestExperts say children are particularly vulnerable to the health problems caused by lead in water pipes. Yellow Sarah / Getty Images
- The recently approved $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill includes $ 15 billion to replace aging aqueducts across the country.
- Experts say this program is important because of the long-lasting health effects of lead in water supplies, especially for children under 5 years of age.
- They indicate that there are ways to test for lead in your home water supply.
- They also say that replacing old pipes is a good investment as healthy drinking water cuts public health costs significantly.
After months of tussle, Congress approved a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure contract, including nearly $ 36 billion to improve the country’s water systems.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls it “the largest single investment in water that the federal government has ever made”.
Allocations include nearly $ 12 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, an additional $ 4 billion for the fund dedicated to “emerging pollutants,” and $ 5 billion in grants to improve water infrastructure for the Nation.
But perhaps the most significant investment in terms of long-term health effects is the $ 15 billion allocated to replace lead pipes to begin overhauling and reducing lead contamination in the country’s water systems.
The highly toxic metal that was once used in gasoline, paint, and jewelry is deadly in large quantities, but tiny amounts can also cause physical harm to humans.
Experts therefore say that any presence of lead in our water systems is of serious concern.
“Lead is not a naturally occurring problem in surface water,” John Gautreaux, a senior water treatment operator in Houma, Louisiana, told Healthline.
“Any lead that enters our facility is likely to be removed in our reprocessing process. But many water systems across America still have lead transmission lines, and many homes (especially older ones) have lead pipes, fittings, and solder. All of this allows lead to get into drinking water, ”he said.
“Hopefully the bill will allow agencies to test more houses for it and, ideally, provide funding to swap these lines,” said Gautreaux.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, there isn’t an amount of lead in the body that is considered safe, with children under the age of 5 being particularly susceptible to its effects.
“We know that lead damages brain development in fetuses and children, causes loss of intelligence, behavioral and attention deficits, and developmental delays,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, MPH, Founder and Director of Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative in Flint, Michigan, and Professor of Public Health at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in the Department of Public Health.
Several studies have shown that early exposure to lead can lead to increased aggressiveness as well as criminal behavior, loss of academic achievement, and loss of lifetime income.
“We also know that it hits some children harder. Children of color, especially black children, and children with low incomes are more exposed to lead exposure, ”Hanna-Attisha told Healthline.
“Studies show that drinking water violations, like many environmental threats, disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color,” she said.
This lifelong impact is one of the reasons the City of Flint, Michigan, which has dealt with lead-contaminated drinking water for years, was recently awarded a $ 626 million partial compensation to cover the damage suffered by residents during its water crisis .
If you want to test your home’s drinking water for lead, you may be able to request a test from your state’s department of health, experts say.
Otherwise, tests can be purchased online, but you may need to test more than once to be sure.
“Lead in water sampling is very variable and can depend on the time of day, time of year, type of collection bottle, and other factors. A one-time sample is not reliable in order to prevent future lead release, ”explained Hanna-Attisha.
“If you believe there is lead in your piping, the most important thing is to prevent prolonged exposure. This can be done with a lead purification filter or alternative water (like bottled water) and other lead-reducing practices (rinsing, using cold water, cleaning the aerator, etc.), ”she said.
“Bottled water is regulated by the FDA and therefore has a lower lead efficiency. These precautions are particularly important for vulnerable populations such as pregnant mothers and babies with reconstituted infant formula, ”said Hanna-Attisha.
The EPA estimates that there are 6 to 10 million lead pipes in cities and towns in the United States.
The $ 15 billion infrastructure bill might throw a spanner in the works, but it’s unlikely that it will be enough to solve the country’s leading problem on its own.
“A back-of-the-envelope calculation based on the EPA’s estimate of the average replacement cost per line ($ 4,700) and the assumption of 6 to 10 million lead service lines across the country suggests the cost is between $ 28 billion and $ 47 billion could originally be in the upper range of $ 45 billion, but $ 15 billion well below that, ”reported the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank.
“With the new funding, we can expect some or modest reduction in these issues,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, professor of public health at New Mexico State University.
“Targeted funding for disadvantaged communities can also help as these communities have the highest exposure to lead problems,” he said.
Because of these long-term health effects, which affect not only people’s viability, but also their productivity and general public safety, the economic benefits of replacing lead pipes are obvious.
Several studies by non-partisan groups and state health officials have shown returns greater than 2 to 1 for lead pipe replacement.
President Biden’s pending Build Back Better Act would add another $ 30 billion to the lead renovation budget if passed in its current form.
“What is a little worrying is that leaded pipes were banned in the 1980s and we are still struggling with this problem after more than three decades,” Khubchandani told Healthline.
“We must see this as a good investment opportunity as children are the future of the nation and there should be no compromise on such funding, which would mean we need bipartisan and community support,” he said.