When it comes to our health, especially that of children, lead is one of the most harmful contaminants we face daily in our environment. Health experts who have studied lead agree on a sobering message: there is no safe level of exposure.
One of the biggest challenges is that lead is often invisible and its impacts are hard to notice in the short term. Even at lower levels that cause no obvious symptoms, lead can cause a wide range of progressive and irreversible injuries, especially in children. This includes damage to brain development, leading to increased antisocial behaviors and reduced IQ, attention span and educational attainment.
Exposure can also cause anemia, hypertension, and damage to the kidneys, immune system, and reproductive organs.
Lead is also persistent in the environment. Many of us ingest lead every day, including through tap water which leaches lead from pipes and solder found in old pipes and fixtures that connect our homes to water lines.
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Although we’ve known about these risks for decades and our water systems are required by the Safe Drinking Water Act to take steps to reduce lead, measurable amounts still come out of our taps, especially in areas where buildings and houses were constructed before 1950. .
Colorado is no exception. Despite recent, proactive work by Denver Water — and providers in places like Greeley, Grand Junction, and Pueblo, to name a few — there are still an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 service lines in lead. connected to faucets in homes, schools, children in Colorado. care centers and businesses.
A recent national study found 72% of Colorado children under six with lead detected in their blood, well above the national rate of 51%. These impacts are often more pronounced among minority and disadvantaged communities.
Meeting this challenge is long overdue. Over the past few decades, we’ve removed lead from gasoline, banned it from paints and consumer products, and developed a vast body of science on its toxic effects. In 2022, there should be no lead in the water we use to make mac and cheese, soup and hot chocolate, or in the bottles our children bring to school and practice. of football.
The Biden administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have pledged to eliminate lead from our drinking water once and for all. Here in Colorado, we are focused on that goal through the unprecedented funding provided by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which provides a massive five-year funding increase to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and its partners to accelerate progress on clean water. in our cities, our suburbs and our countryside. These projects will secure vital and much-needed investments in our drinking water and wastewater systems.
It is difficult to overstate what this funding will accomplish. The Infrastructure Act provides more than $120 million for Colorado drinking water systems this year alone, including $55 million for core projects that allow utilities to replace owners’ cost shares and fund 100% of line replacement costs.
These resources have been described by EPA officials and the Biden administration as “game-changing”, “transformative” and “the biggest investment ever made in water”. Projects authorized under the new law will create jobs and modernize and expand drinking water infrastructure – treatment technologies, lagoons, pumps, filters, pipes, ponds, valves and the nuts and bolts that go with them – in all corners of the state.
While the opportunity before us is enormous, the hard work has only just begun. These funds mean nothing until they are in the hands of contractors and workers who remove and replace lead pipes in our communities.
Over the coming months, the EPA will engage with partners to quickly deliver these resources where they are needed most, including where people are exposed to lead from other sources such as old household paint. and soils contaminated by past mining and industrial activities. We will make sure to prioritize disadvantaged communities, complete inventories, streamline application and contracting processes, and find and train the skilled workers needed to fill these jobs.
The bipartisan infrastructure law is a transformative moment for Colorado. Together, we have a chance to eliminate lead from our drinking water once and for all.
Turning its potential into reality will take hard work, planning and coordination. This work begins with each of us and the awareness of what it takes to achieve and maintain clean water. If you are concerned about lead or have questions, contact the EPA at [email protected] or ask your water supplier for inventories and plans for lead service line removal projects in your community.
The EPA’s effort to eliminate lead from drinking water is only part of a larger national lead strategy. Learn more about: www.epa.gov/lead/draft-strategy-reduce-lead-exposures-and-disparities-us-communities.
KC Becker, of Boulder, is regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which includes Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, as well as 28 nations tribal.
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