The Dallas Morning News
Biden targets lead pipes nationwide
Calling for equity, he proposes spending $45B to replace them
CHICAGO — Given short shrift by public officials for decades, lead pipes snaking through communities of every size from rural Maine to suburban California are in the national spotlight now as President Joe Biden pushes to spend $45 billion to replace every lead water pipe in the country as part of his big infrastructure package.
The moon-shot plan could have huge ramifications for this city and others where a swath of Black, Latino and low-income residents have been left effectively drinking from a lead straw decades after scientists established that lead consumption is unsafe at any level.
The White House holds out its lead-pipe proposal as a generation-changing opportunity to reduce brain-damaging exposure to lead in 400,000 schools and child care centers and 6 million to 10 million homes. It’s also an effort that the administration says can help create plenty of good-paying union jobs around the country.
There are few, if any, cities where the issue is more salient than Chicago. The nation’s third-largest city is still estimated to have some 380,000 lead pipes bringing water into homes, schools and businesses. The city required their use until a 1986 federal ban that came long after most other American cities had phased out their use in the face of an avalanche of research on lead’s toxicity.
Since announcing his infrastructure plan, Biden has tried to frame his ambitious effort on lead pipes as advancing the cause of racial equity. The problem has long had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, according to environmental advocates and research.
Biden claims there are “hundreds of Flints all across America” — a reference to the public health crisis that erupted in the predominantly Black Michigan city after the government switched to a new water supply in 2014 but failed to properly treat the water with chemicals to prevent lead pipes from disintegrating.
The problem nationally would not have been neglected so long if it hit closer to home for politicians, the president suggested.
“What do you think would happen if they found out all the lead pipes are up in the Capitol?” Biden said recently as he defended his plan against GOP complaints that it’s rife with wasteful spending.