PROVIDENCE, RI – In an effort to ensure safe, clean, lead-free drinking water, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse today joined Providence Water and Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to highlight a new $3.3 million earmark the Senators secured for lead pipe replacement and additional safe drinking water funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The event was held outside homes on Potters Avenue in Providence, where Providence Water is currently replacing private side lead service lines, at no cost to customers.
Lead can leach from pipes and taint water. No amount of lead is safe, and consuming it can lead to behavioral and learning problems in children, as well as heart, kidney, and reproductive issues in adults.
Water can be treated with chemicals to prevent lead from entering the water, but the only way to eradicate the threat of lead completely is to remove the pipes themselves.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as many as 10 million lead pipes nationwide still carry water to homes and businesses across the country.
“Aging lead pipes have long been a serious health concern for communities nationwide, including here in Rhode Island. This $3.3 million earmark is being put to work eliminating lead exposure within the communities that Providence Water serves, including replacing over 730 private lead service lines at no cost to homeowners. There is also additional federal funding in the pipeline to eliminate the threat of lead in aging pipes across Rhode Island,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee who has championed initiatives to address lead hazards and eliminate childhood lead exposure, including the CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, which is the only federal program that tracks rates of lead poisoning among children and helps target where resources should be directed. “Replacing these pipes will put people to work safeguarding public health and ensuring safe drinking water for all.”
“For children, exposure to even the smallest traces of lead can have serious lifelong effects. More than 700 families will be able to get the lead out of their water at no cost thanks to the federal funding Senator Reed and I secured,” said Senator Whitehouse, who led Rhode Island’s lawsuit against lead paint companies while serving as the state’s attorney general.
In addition to this earmark, which Reed and Whitehouse secured in the fiscal year 2022 appropriations law, Rhode Island is also slated to receive $377 million for drinking water improvements, including lead pipe replacements and PFAS remediation, that will flow to Rhode Island from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which President Biden signed into law in 2021. An estimated $141 million of this federal funding is projected to be available over the next five years to water suppliers across Rhode Island for lead service line replacement.
Providence Water estimates that this level of federal funding will facilitate the replacement of more than 31,000 private lead service lines at no cost to homeowners.
The IIJA included $15 billion over five years in direct funding for lead pipe replacements and $11 billion in funding that is eligible for lead pipe replacements through Drink Water State Revolving Funds.
Rhode Island lead prevention advocates estimate that there could be as many as 100,000 drinking water pipes throughout the state that still contain lead.
The Congressional delegation also secured hundreds of millions of dollars for Rhode Island in the American Rescue Plan law, a portion of which may be dedicate to replacing lead pipes.
The EPA has set an October 16, 2024 deadline for municipalities nationwide to conduct an inventory of lead lines.