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Feds roll out plan seeking to replace every lead pipe in New England

Lead pipe removal in Flint, Michigan.
Steven B/Brand Diverse Solutions/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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iStockphoto
Lead pipe removal in Flint, Michigan.

The six New England states will soon receive more than $200 million from the federal government to replace lead pipes in the region’s drinking water system.

The allocation is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was signed by President Biden last year. The overall law targets $15 billion toward replacing every lead pipe in the country’s drinking water system within the next decade.

David Cash, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator for New England and its ten federally recognized tribes, said the federal government will steer much of the money toward vulnerable and historically disadvantaged communities.

“Connecticut, as well as New England as a whole, has some of the oldest housing stock in the country,” Cash said. “There’s aging infrastructure including lead pipes carrying drinking water.”

“We’re trying to do more,” Cash said. “We need to be doing more.”

Cash said the EPA will initially focus on lead pipe replacements in Hartford, Fairfield and New Haven counties, “which are home to towns with the greatest number of children with elevated blood levels.”

“We’ve really targeted the areas that are the most vulnerable and where the impacts have been the greatest,” Cash said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of America’s children are at risk for lead exposure – often in their own home. The CDC says no amount of lead is safe for children, and those from low-income households are disproportionately impacted.

While lead paint in homes built before 1978 continues to be the most common source of lead exposure, the EPA estimates “drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead.”

Last year, the Biden Administration said “up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and child care centers are served by a lead service line or pipes and other fixtures.”

Cash said the money is urgently needed to protect children from further lead exposure.

“It’s a toxin. And even in low levels of lead in children’s bodies, it can cause serious health effects, both at that time and in the future,” Cash said.

In New England, $207,533,000 was appropriated under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund lead line replacement projects in fiscal year 2022, according to a spokesperson for the EPA. The agency will distribute those funds by September 30, 2022 through grant awards.

“We expect to receive additional funds in each of the next 4 Fiscal Years (FY23 through FY26),” said an EPA spokesperson in an email, “but at this point are not certain as to how much will be allocated under this program to the New England states beyond the current Fiscal Year.”

The EPA says states are currently working on their “intended use plans” for lead pipe replacement money, which will include a list of specific projects they intend to fund.

“Once the states receive this money from EPA, they will work through their ‘project priority list’ to select the projects that will receive funding in their respective states,” the agency said.

Copyright 2022 Connecticut Public Radio. To see more, visit Connecticut Public Radio.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.