We’re removing lead from drinking water, once and for all.

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In 2014, Flint, Michigan, made national headlines.

It was all due to elected officials’ decision to switch the city’s drinking water supply — intended to be a cost-saving measure but with disastrous consequences for public health.

The other issue? Although Black residents comprise 11% of Michigan’s total population, Flint’s population was and is overwhelmingly Black, meaning it was mostly Black households who experienced foul-tasting and discolored drinking water. But it wasn’t just about the water’s taste — dangerously toxic water caused a host of other health issues. It was contaminated with lead, and it was poisoning Black households.

Thousands of Flint residents experienced unclean drinking water for 18 months, causing skin rashes, hair loss and itchy skin. Ten years later, Flint residents haven’t seen a penny of a $625 million legal settlement and are still suffering from related health consequences.

Flint earned embarrassing media attention as a preventable, large-scale public health crisis. It also helped raise awareness of the environmental justice movement and acknowledgement that environmental issues disproportionately impact communities of color. But this is far from the only instance of lead-contaminated drinking water. The U.S., the richest country in the world, still relies on lead pipes which are present in every single state. There is no safe level of lead exposure, and children are particularly vulnerable.

After years of accepting lead-exposure as a problem too expensive to fix, we’re finally doing something about it.

I’m proud to have secured nearly $1 million in federal community project funding specifically for Indianapolis to identify and replace lead service lines in Indianapolis, specifically in Martindale Brightwood and Near Northwest Riverside neighborhoods. I also voted for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, in part, to provide historic funding to replace lead service pipes in the United States, once and for all. This law invests $15 billion to identify and replace lead service pipes.

This month, President Joe Biden announced a major step forward in this work. Every state will receive funding to replace toxic lead pipes commensurate with their needs as soon as possible. In Indiana, this translates to nearly $66 million, to start. In addition, Biden announced nearly $90 million to reduce health hazards in public housing. That means addressing issues like lead-based paint, carbon monoxide, mold, radon, fire safety and asbestos in the homes of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

The goals of these investments are simple: no matter where you live, how much money you have or your race, you deserve to be safe from toxins we know can cause health problems.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has received praise for its commitment to fix everyday problems for Americans — crumbling and aging roads, bridges, ports and more — but its investments in clean water is equally important. Many Americans are drinking unclean water with no knowledge of these dangers until they begin experiencing health problems. 

As much as we would like to snap our fingers and fix all our country’s problems, solving these large-sale, systemic issues takes time, money and strategy. With large-scale infrastructure needs, we must solve these problems efficiently and effectively. That’s why it’s so important that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Biden’s Investing in America Agenda not only addresses environmental justice, they make a coordinated effort to help neglected communities with the most urgent needs: communities of color.

2018 study by Environmental Protection Agency scientists found that people of color on average faced a 28% higher health burden compared to the general population because they live in proximity to facilities emitting particulate pollution like soot, which exacerbate diseases like asthma. Another report shows that drinking water systems violations were 40% more likely to occur in places with higher percentages of people of color.

A quote from Dr. Kristi Pullen Fedinick on this study says it all: “As a scientist, I was surprised to find that race had the strongest relationship to the length of time people had to live with drinking water violations. But as a Black woman, I was not surprised at all.”  

Just last year, Jackson, Mississippi, a city where 82% of the population is Black, experienced a complete failure of their municipal water system. The NAACP described this as the result of decades of chronic underinvestment. Yet the state legislature and governor repeatedly restricted resources to fix the persistent problems, even after federal funds became available.

The Black community has long suffered social discrimination because of systemic racism, and environmental injustice is no different. For generations, our communities have been underfunded and overburdened with pollution and poor drinking water infrastructure. 

While environmental issues may seem to be a distant problem, we need to refocus our viewpoint. Environmental racism and climate change aren’t problems for future generations. They’re happening now. And it’s affecting everything from the air we breathe to the water that comes from our faucets.

I’m confident investments from our Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will protect generations of families and correct the environmental wrongs of institutional racism. I’m proud to work hard to implement this law and guarantee clean drinking water for every American family — once and for all.

1 COMMENT

  1. I just have to ask, how well have they looked at the long term impacts of the micro plastics that are shed by the new waterlines. Recent articles have noted that PVC and other plastics used in the new water lines are showing up in bloot clots and cholesterol in humans. Long term impacts may be just as bad as the replacements long term.

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