US to tackle lead risk to nation’s drinking water

US president Joe Biden has said the United States has to tackle access to clean water for millions of Americans, with the country’s schoolchildren most at risk.

Speaking in Philadelphia Biden said the issue was acute and  that his administration was  to rollout a comprehensive programme to replace the lead pipes across the country’s water systems.

He said he had signed a “once in a lifetime” Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, putting Americans to work to rebuild our nation’s roads, highways, bridges, railroads, ports, airports, high-speed Internet, “our water systems, and so much more”.

“I was given a copy of a speech that I made about 30 years ago, saying we need an infrastructure bill to deal with water,” he added. “I had forgotten, they dug it up for me.

“But the point is: We’ve been needing this for a long time. This is not new.I remember starting off and working like hell on the lead paint initiative because that was such a problem.”

Biden continued: “I’m here today to talk about an issue affecting Americans across the country: water. You think it’s silly, but water, the issue has to do with basic dignity.  Every American deserves to be able to turn on their water tap or faucet and be able to drink clean water.

“We’re the richest, most prosperous nation in the world. Water ought to be something that’s just guaranteed.  But, unfortunately, that’s not the case.

“Right now, there are an estimated 160,000 service lines carrying water into homes and schools in Pennsylvania, including an estimated 20,000 lines for homes here in the city of Philadelphia.  Ten million families across the country and hundreds of thousands of schools, where schoolchildren and day-care centres exist that their water is pumped through lead pipes, lead valves, and lead fixtures.”

He said the problem is almost in every state, but it’s especially bad in older cities in the Midwest and in the Northeast.

“Many houses built in the last century, and the average age of water and sewer pipes in the US is nearly 50 years old.  And they’re often even older in major cities like Philadelphia. Many water mains and pipes in the country are nearing the end of their useful lives.

“And our water systems break down, the pipes start to deteriorate, exposure to lead in pipes increases. And beyond lead pipes, there’s as many as 24 million housing units that have significant, significant problems with lead-based paint.

“And here’s why it matters.  I know we talk about it generically, but it really matters.  Exposure to lead impacts children’s brain development.  It’s hazardous to their health.  No amount of lead in water is safe.  None.  No amount is safe.  It can damage the brain and kidneys, interfere with the production of red blood cells that the body needs to carry oxygen.

“And despite these dangerous health effects, the CDC estimates that over half of American children could be exposed to lead, with the exposure often coming from their own homes.  The problem disproportionately affects low-income families.  People of colour are much more likely to live in homes where lead exposure is an issue.

This is the United States of America, for God’s sake.  We know better than that.”

As such Biden said his administration had now made a commitment to replace every single service line in every part of the country over the next decade, by using “not most, every” tool at our disposal to get it done.

Biden continued|: “Just over a year ago, we launched the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan to coordinate 10 different federal agencies, get all 10 of them together so that we could pool money and get it out the door quickly.

“Since the start of the Biden-Harris administration, we’ve already put more than $5 billion to work in big cities.  And places to work going to increase,  and we’re going to increase the amount of money in the years to come.  This is a 10-year project.”

He concluded: “This isn’t complicated.  Every person in this country deserves to be able to turn on a faucet and have clean drinking water.  And through the Infrastructure Law, we’re making historic investments to make sure that they can.”

“We’re the only country in the world that comes out of every crisis stronger than we went in.  And that’s what we’re doing on the economy now, and that’s what we’re doing under this infrastructure legislation.”