Childhood lead poisoning has decreased significantly over the past 50 years, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that up to 10 million households and 400,000 schools and child care centers still have service lines or fixtures that contain lead. These are significant health hazards and disproportionately affect low-income communities. Fortunately, the federal government has laid out a plan to accelerate the removal of lead pipes and paint from the remaining infrastructure.
The discontinuation of lead paint, gasoline, and pipes has been highly effective in reducing lead poisoning, but lead paint wasn’t banned until 1978, leaving many coats behind. According to the federal government, $15 billion will be set aside to replace lead service lines, faucets, and fixtures over the next five years.
Additionally, the current administration plans to set aside more money in the Build Back Better Act to reduce lead hazards in public housing and low-income neighborhoods as Black children and children living in poverty have average blood lead levels 13 percent higher than the national average. Lead exposure leads to lower IQs, poor memory, and low impulse control as well as a higher risk for kidney disease, stroke, and heart disease.
Most cities have at least some lead pipes running under their streets and into homes, but the tricky part of eradicating these pipes is figuring out where they are. Many of these aging lines don’t have maps of their location, so replacing them will require research and mapping.
In most cases, lead pipes are not dangerous because of a protective “plaque” of minerals. But if water composition shifts, the results can be deadly. This shift occurred infamously in Flint, Michigan when the city switched from Detroit water to water from the Flint River.
The EPA plans to make the lead pipe replacement initiative official and write it into law by 2024.