Biden’s Plan to Get the Lead Out of Our Water (and Children’s Bodies)

Biden’s Plan to Get the Lead Out of Our Water (and Children’s Bodies)

Lead poisons people, particularly children. That’s why the federal government mandated lead-free gasoline and prohibited the sale of lead-based paints decades ago. Yet lead persists in millions of drinking water pipes across the country, and it leaches into the water we use to cook, bathe and drink. 

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan will replace these lead pipes servicing 6 to 10 million American homes and as many as 22 million people, while also providing good-paying jobs in communities across the country.  

This proposal is long-overdue – a comprehensive solution to a persistent and serious public health problem whose dire impacts are hard to overstate. Here’s how the EPA describes it: 

“A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.” 

Biden’s plan includes: 

  • Funds to Eliminate Lead Service Lines. The plan would eliminate 100% of dangerous lead pipes and service lines in drinking water systems to improve the health of children and particularly communities of color.  
  • Funding for Removing Lead Pipes in Homes, Schools, Childcares. To eliminate all lead pipes and service lines, the plan would invest $45 billion in EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and in Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) grants. Funding also is needed to install water filtration stations in schools to address lead problems.  
  • Funds to Address PFAS Contamination. The plan would provide $10 billion to monitor and remediate PFAS in drinking water, a major threat to millions of Americans, and to fix rural water problems.  
  • Funds to Upgrade and Modernize Drinking Water, Wastewater, and Stormwater Systems. The plan would modernize aging water systems by scaling up existing, successful programs, including by providing $56 billion in grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, Tribes, territories, and disadvantaged communities. 

Solving the national disgrace of ongoing lead poisoning in our drinking water is a leading example of the worthy investments included in the American Jobs Act – investments that will save lives, improve our quality of life, and keep us the world’s leading economy.  Putting Americans to work on these much-needed but long-delayed projects just makes sense. 

The American people understand this – which is why the specific policies and programs contained in the AJP are popular across the political spectrum. They know America’s crumbling infrastructure is a national embarrassment, and not just because conditions on our roads, bridges and mass transit systems fall so far short of many other advanced economies. The dangerous state of our drinking water systems is even more shameful and fixing it needs to be a key part of any deal on infrastructure spending. 

Politically speaking, this should be an easy decision. A huge, bipartisan majority of Americans favors the American Jobs Plan’s provisions on lead service line replacement. They understand this is an investment in our future, in our competitiveness and in our health. This is a problem we can fix, so it makes no sense to continue ignoring it. 

As Congress and the Biden administration negotiate over the size and scope of a plan to fix our infrastructure and create jobs, it is imperative that we fully fund proposals to finally, once and for all, get the lead out of our drinking water to protect the health and futures of America’s kids. 

Kevin S. Curtis is executive director of the NRDC Action Fund.
Erik D. Olson is a senior advisor to the NRDC Action Fund on health, food and agriculture.