The Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to tighten rules for allowable levels of lead in drinking water, as the Biden administration looks to replace all of the nation's lead service lines using new funds from the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The agency on Thursday announced the first investment of $2.9 billion under the law to replace aging lead pipes, which can leach particles of the heavy metal into drinking water, potentially causing severe developmental and neurological issues. The administration is looking to replace all lead drinking water pipes over the coming years. Vice President Kamala Harris was set to make the formal announcement Thursday during a speech to the AFL-CIO.
“The science on lead is settled — there is no safe level of exposure and it is time to remove this risk to support thriving people and vibrant communities,” said EPA administrator Michael Regan in a statement. The new EPA requirements, which is expected to be finalized by 2024, would require the replacement of remaining lead drinking water pipes “as quickly as is feasible” and could include new testing requirements for drinking water systems.
Congress approved $15 billion for lead service line replacement in the infrastructure bill — about a third less than some estimates for replacing them nationally — but the new rule could close the gap.
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The announcement comes is being made in conjunction with other administration efforts to limit lead exposure, including more childhood surveillance testing for lead exposure by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to remove lead paint in public housing. The Treasury Department is also announcing that surplus COVID-19 relief funds can be used for lead service line replacement projects.