Underground pipes made of lead were commonly used to distribute drinking water, connecting the water main to homes and buildings. These pipes, known as a lead service line (LSL), were still being used in the 1980s, despite other countries restricting their use decades earlier. New York State has 360,000 lead pipes still delivering water to people’s homes, making it the fourth highest in the nation in terms of LSL usage.
Lead is a toxic substance, and children are the most vulnerable to its harmful effects, which include impairing the development of their brain and nervous system which can lead to permanent and profound health issues. Even though lead poisoning is completely preventable, it remains a deadly threat, and studies show that Black children living below the poverty line are twice as likely to suffer from lead poisoning as poor white children.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates at least 6 to 10 million lead service lines exist in the United States. These lines are primarily in low-income communities and communities of color. With the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, we have an opportunity to address this environmental justice issue with $15 billion for lead pipe remediation and an additional $9 billion to help with lead reduction in disadvantaged communities. But the challenge is identifying where the LSLs are in these communities, so that the local municipalities can use this funding to replace them.
WE ACT is part of a project that is creating an LSL line replacement inventory tool to overcome this challenge. With the help of BlueConduit, a company that builds machine learning software to support efficient lead removal, we are creating a public facing map for communities to use with local decisionmakers and utility leaders. Working with WE ACT and NRDC, each hub city will have a community organization lead and their partners will work within their community to educate them about the health concerns with LSLs and engage with decisionmakers.
WE ACT will help facilitate and educate groups on using the tool to engage with utility leaders, decisionmakers, and other stakeholders. And NRDC will provide the technical and legal assistance along with WE ACT.
Our goal is to ensure that communities are able to be accurately identifying and advocating for the removal of these toxic lead pipes. This will ensure better quality drinking water for generations to come as well as create healthier homes and communities.