The Biden administration has announced plans to reduce all sources of lead exposure, largely by requiring water systems in the United States to replace lead service lines within the next 10 years.
According to a White House report, more than 9.2 million U.S. households connect to water through lead pipes, with the large majority of these households located in disadvantaged communities. In any quantity, lead is hazardous for human and animal health, and lead exposure has been linked to slowed development in children, cardiovascular risks, reproductive issues, and a number of other adverse health effects.
Lead exposure derives from a variety of sources, such as fossil fuels, industrial sites, and materials ranging from paint to cosmetics.
The new initiative aims to replace 100% of lead service lines, and the EPA’s proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements will also work to strengthen tap water sampling requirements.
Funding will come from $15 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will go towards the replacement of lead service lines, while $11.7 billion will be added for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. A number of additional grants have been offered to state governments to remediate lead pipes and ensure access to clean, safe drinking water.
Efforts to Reduce Lead Exposure From Multiple Other Sources
While the majority of the initiative focuses on lead exposure derived from water, it also targets exposure to lead from paint and dust, air, food, soil, and all other potential sources.
The EPA has taken steps this year to increase requirements for paint and building material-related lead exposure. For example, the agency presented a proposal in July of this year that would increase requirements for removing lead-based hazards in old buildings and childcare facilities. Of the funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the EPA has directed $3.5 billion to replace lead service lines in homes, buildings, and schools.
In terms of reducing lead contamination in soil and food, most of the cited danger arises from past industrial operations such as lead mining and smelting.
The EPA completed 49 Superfund cleanup projects in 2023 at such sites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administratio has also announced draft guidance requiring relevant industries to meet action levels for lead in processed foods intended for babies and young children.