Campaigners urge RI officials to use federal money to replace lead-contaminated water pipes – ecoRI News


By ROB SMITH / EcoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE – Advocates call on state leaders to spend $ 500 million in federal money to replace approximately 100,000 lead-contaminated water service lines across Rhode Island. The Childhood Lead Action Project has brought together a coterie of 40 state and local organizations and two dozen political leaders who support the use of American Rescue Plan Act dollars and other federal funding to solve a public health problem in the statewide.

“Clean water is a human right,” Terri Wright, organizer of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), said at a September 30 rally at the Statehouse. “And a necessity for leading a normal human life.”

Wright, who was addicted to lead as a child, noted that many low-income parents struggle to find clean water and / or access testing.

The homes most exposed to lead pipes are concentrated in the state’s urban core and its poorest neighborhoods.

“There is no safe lead level in children, we know that,” said Dr. Michael Fine, former director of the Rhode Island Department of Public Health.

Children with acute lead poisoning may experience nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, and abdominal pain. The long-term effects of lead in the blood are more serious. Lead poisoning can decrease a child’s ability to learn and increase the risk of developmental disabilities.

Lead has long plagued Rhode Island. The state’s housing stock tends to age, and all homes built before 1978, the year lead-based paints were nationally banned, are likely to have lead paint, lead dust and / or lead pipes. Lead poisoning in children has increased slowly, with 3.6% of all children under 6 testing positive for high levels of lead in their blood.

Providence Water serves 60 percent of the state’s population and has long faced lead contamination. Its water comes from Scituate water, unleaded, but the lead enters the water once it reaches the service lines. National standards set the limit for lead in water at 15 parts per billion (ppb). Water suppliers reaching this level must take measures to control corrosion.

Since 2006, Providence Water has exceeded action levels for lead 14 out of 15 years. In recent years, the utility has stepped up efforts to replace contaminated lines. Since 2017, Providence Water has replaced 2,300 lead service lines on the public side and 1,100 lead service lines on the private side. He currently estimates that there are 10,200 public service lines and 16,700 private lead lines left.

Replacement is only one of the options available to the utility to prevent lead from entering drinking water. Providence Water officials will often increase the pH of its water – usually by adding phosphorus – to induce reactions to minimize corrosion of the lead. When water interacts with the buildup inside pipes, it can increase or decrease the leaching of lead.

A $ 3 million loan from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank enabled Providence Water to offer homeowners 10-year zero-interest loans to help them replace private service lines. The cost of replacing a service line ranges from $ 2,000 to $ 3,000. Advocates say that even without paying back the interest, the poorest fixed-income residents cannot afford the loans. So far, around 750 utility customers have used the loan service.

In a statement to ecoRI News, Providence Water said it “supports additional funding for the replacement of lead service lines, which aligns with our goal of delivering lead-free water to our customers’ taps.” .

“The current plans are not sufficient for those on fixed incomes,” said Representative David Morales. Morales represents Providence’s House District 7, an area of ​​the West End with many old houses and lead pipes. “Clean water should never be considered a privilege. “

Advocates see the $ 500 million price tag both as a cost-effective preventive health measure and as a stimulus for job creation. They estimate that at least 100,000 lead-contaminated service lines exist statewide. There is no estimate of how long it would take to replace each pipe, but advocates see it as enough work to keep a small army of local plumbers and professional contractors busy for years to come.

“It’s only expensive if you think it’s not worth doing it,” said parent and advocate Liz Colón.

Rhode Island currently has approximately $ 1.1 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Governor Dan McKee wants to allocate $ 100 million for housing, child care and small business assistance by the end of the year. The state is the only one in New England that does not touch ARPA funds. Legislative leaders have said they want to spend the money through the typical budget process. The state could receive more federal funds as part of an infrastructure package being debated in the US House of Representatives.

“It is outrageous that we are still here in 2021 talking about lead in drinking water,” said Devra Levy, community organizer at the Childhood Lead Action Project. “It’s time to replace the pipes.

The Coalition for Unleaded Water plans to send a letter outlining his proposal to heads of state next week. The list of organizations that have signed it includes Black Lives Matter RI PAC, Clean Water Action Rhode Island, Conservation Law Foundation, United Way of Rhode Island, and Thundermist Health Center.

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