Sacramento Bee: New bill by Sen. Alex Padilla would replace every lead pipe in U.S. over 10 years

By Isabella Bloom

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, introduced a bill Friday with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to replace every lead service line and pipe in America over the next 10 years. 

Shaped by the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., the Lead-Free Drinking Water for All Act would spend $45 billion to get rid of lead contamination in drinking water throughout the country. 

“The injustice that we all witnessed in Flint, Michigan is happening all across the country, including in California – and it’s hurting communities of color the most,” Padilla said in a statement. “This is an environmental catastrophe; children are being poisoned in their own homes and schools and families are being forced to depend on bottled water to avoid contamination.”

Lead contamination came to the forefront of public consciousness when the water and public health crisis occurred in the predominantly Black city of Flint, Mich. The city switched its drinking water supply in 2014 without appropriately treating and testing the water, leading to foul-smelling water and elevated blood-lead levels in children, among other health effects.

It’s been discovered in other communities, too. In 2017, 25% of schools in Fresno County found lead contamination in the drinking water, according to The Fresno Bee.

Children are at a heightened risk for damage by lead contamination. Their growing bodies absorb lead more easily, and their brains and nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the harmful effects of lead exposure, according to the EPA. Even low levels of lead can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, slowed growth and anemia.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), there are 6 to 10 million lead service lines, which are pipes running water from a main water source to people’s homes, serving up to 22 million Americans.

This proposed legislation would prioritize disadvantaged communities, which face a higher risk of lead exposure, and does not leave the financial burden of lead pipe replacement on them.

The 10-year deadline to completely remove all lead services lines and pipes gained approval by many of the bill’s supporters, which include a number of environmental nonprofits and organizations, including the NRDC, Environmental Defense Fund and CALPIRG.

President Biden also wants to prioritize replacing lead pipes through his infrastructure improvement package. Bloomberg reports that Biden plans to ask Congress for a similar investment of $45 billion in lead pipe replacement. 

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