WASHINGTON, D.C. (WIVB) — President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill would include $45 billion that go toward removing lead pipelines across the country. Lead is a natural element found in the earth’s crust. It can find its way into drinking water as pipelines corrode.
“There are not very many other things that we think can have such a remarkably high payoff, both for the individual person, but for the society as a whole,” said David Wessel, the director of the Hutchins Center at the Brookings Institution.
Lead can have serious negative health consequences for both children and adults. Low levels of lead in the blood of children can cause slow growth levels, hearing issues, anemia, hyperactivity, and learning problems. Meanwhile, adults can suffer increased blood pressure, lower kidney function, and reproductive issues.
“Lead is invisible,” Wessel said. “You don’t really know unless you’re testing your water or someone’s telling you, as they did in Flint, that there’s a problem … Although it’s a known threat, it’s an invisible one.”
The Environmental Protection Agency reports there are six to ten million lead service lines nationwide. This means that anywhere from 15-22 million people get water from lead pipes.
“I think this is this ought to be relatively uncontroversial,” Wessel said. “But of course, in Washington these days, nothing is uncontroversial.”
Meanwhile, there are between 30,000-40,000 lead pipelines in Buffalo. Oluwole McFoy, the chairman of Buffalo Water, says they have replaced over 500 of these service lines.
“We have a ways to go,” McFoy said. “So, that takes significant money.”
McFoy says it could cost up to $500 million to replace all the lead service lines in Buffalo.
“[Lead service lines are] running anywhere from 10,000 to $15,000 to replace a lead service line in our city,” McFoy said.
Even with federal funding, it could take up to 25 years to replace these lead pipes in Buffalo. But McFoy says doing so will remain a priority no matter what.
“It fits right in with our mission, which is public health,” McFoy said. “We have to make sure that we maintain the trust of our customers of our residents of the people that we serve in delivering safe, clean water.”