It’s time to take out the lead: implementing the lead pipe phase-out program | Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Although the toxicity of lead has been known for a century, the United States is still lagging behind in controlling lead in drinking water. Exposure to lead is known to cause brain damage, with impacts on intelligence and impulse control.
Indeed, respected studies show that the reduction in crime rates in the United States at the end of the 20th century is associated with the decision to require unleaded gasoline, which reduced the high blood lead levels in children. residents living near highways. A small legal boom has also developed around the removal of lead paint from older homes.
Yet the country has not acted aggressively to remove lead pipes from our public water systems. While there is consensus that no level of lead exposure is acceptable, states have not even been required to identify existing lead pipes, let alone remove them.
The recent infrastructure law and the EPA’s actions to strengthen the lead-and-copper rule now promise significant progress, if not an ultimate solution. The infrastructure law provides $ 15 billion for the stripping of lead pipes and paint, which is certainly enough to get the work off to a good start, although the cost of dismantling the pipes alone has been estimated at 40 to $ 50 billion.
However, the limited funding will require prioritization, and the lack of information on the extent and location of lead water pipes significantly compromises the agency’s ability to plan for effective disposal. Likewise, money will go to states for the administration of suppression efforts, highlighting the lack of current state planning for such programs.
The EPA now appears to be taking this seriously, after the public relations and public health disasters in Flint, Michigan, and Newark, NJ.
The EPA also said it would keep the much criticized lead and copper regulations promulgated by the Trump administration in place because the regulations, while delaying the required pace of removal, also required agencies to develop information. on the extent of the use of lead pipes. The EPA added that it intends to address the austerity issue later, by enacting new copper and lead regulations by 2024.
This could be the unique opportunity to eliminate a real scourge that has affected the health of populations in low-income areas for decades. Leave aside the benefits of job creation for plumbers and pipe fitters – although they are certainly substantial as well – the country cannot afford to miss this opportunity despite its enormous cost. In other words, what the country cannot accept is the continuing enormous cost in lost human resources associated with lead exposure.