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As Congress continues to negotiate bills on infrastructure and social safety nets, advocates for environmental justice say actions like replacing lead pipes cannot wait.
Drinking water systems for more than nine million households across the country contain lead pipes, with black, brown and low-income communities disproportionately affected.
Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation, said removing lead pipes will benefit children’s health and educational outcomes as exposure to lead is linked to children’s learning and reading difficulties.
“It then also helps to increase values within communities, property values, because we know that there is a huge wealth gap between black and brown communities and white communities,” said Ali. “There are so many different positive things that can happen.”
Last month, environmental groups filed an emergency petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to obtain free, safe drinking water for Benton Harbor, a black-majority community in southwest Michigan. The city has reported extremely high levels of lead in local water for three years.
Ali pointed out that the federal threshold for taking action is when lead is detected in excess of 15 parts per billion. At Benton Harbor, some of the water in households has been tested at more than 800 parts per billion. He added that the water crisis, like what happened in Flint, is an example of divestment in a community.
“We have ‘victim zones’ all over our country where people have chosen to divest in certain areas,” said Ali. “And often these areas are our black and brown communities and indigenous communities, sometimes our lower-income white communities. So we have a chance to change that dynamic.”
More than 60% of Americans in recent polls said they support the $ 1 trillion bill now passed in Congress to improve roads, bridges, broadband and other infrastructure, including funding lead pipe replacement .
Originally published on Michigan News Connection October 8, 2021. It is shared here with permission.
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