On a day usually marked by solemn consideration of pressing water issues and calls to action, there is great reason for hope: we are drawing closer to victory in a crucial long-standing battle. for water. For the 7th edition of Imagine a day without water, we highlight the longstanding struggle of NRDC and our partners for equitable access to clean, lead-free drinking water and the obstacles we still need to overcome before this problem and all lead service lines are officially uprooted.
Lead-contaminated water has had devastating effects in communities across the United States for far too long, following the same familiar paths of inequality and increasing environmental and health burdens on people of color, which are often over-represented in communities with the most strained service lines. Black children in particular are disproportionately exposed to lead. NRDC has worked to eliminate lead contamination since its foundation, and we know that solving this problem is doable. It can and should be done now.
One of the fundamental issues we are trying to solve at NRDC is removing lead from drinking water. As we’ve seen in Flint, Newark, and now in Benton Harbor, MI, these predominantly black communities and others across the country are often hardest hit by environmental injustices such as lead in their drinking water.
The country watched Flint, Michigan face this same reality on an unbearable scale as its story of lead-contaminated water dominated the news for years. In 2016, after two years of dedicated advocacy from residents of Flint, who were rejected by government officials, community partners and the NRDC sued city and state authorities to help deal with the contamination crisis. lead and ensure safe drinking water for the community of Flint. We ultimately settled the matter successfully, forcing actions to address the lead problem, including demanding the removal of lead water pipes in the city. It was an important step towards justice for the community.
Even at very low levels, lead can cause serious and irreversible damage to the developing brain and nervous system of infants and young children, decrease a child’s cognitive ability, cause behavioral problems and limit their ability to function. concentration. There is no such thing as a safe lead level.
Now another black majority community in Michigan is experiencing the worst kind of dÃ©jÃ vu. Over the past three years, Benton Harbor has faced levels of lead in its drinking water that in some homes have reached nearly 60 times the federal response level with no effective action to address the problem. The NRDC joined with a group of 20 Michigan and National organizations to file a emergency petition with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure a free source of drinking water for the nearly 10,000 residents of Benton Harbor, but those affected by this lead contamination have already suffered irreversible damage.
Flint and Benton Harbor are far from alone in dealing with these problems. NRDC estimates that there are 9 to 12 million lead pipes in all 50 states that connect water pipes to homes. Lead service lines are the equivalent of drinking from a lead straw. As long as the pipes are in the ground, they constitute a time bomb threatening public health. Every day we face other environmental and health issues with solutions that require massive structural changes, international collaboration and innovations to be solved, but when it comes to protecting people from lead in their drinking water, replacing lead pipes will be very helpful. in preventing another crisis like Flint or Benton Harbor.
To his credit, President Biden has called for the removal of all lead service lines across the country. President Biden’s U.S. Jobs Plan calls for $ 45 billion investment to replace lead pipe maintenance while providing well-paying jobs in communities across the country. This is an unprecedented opportunity to tackle lead-contaminated drinking water and to address our broader water infrastructure issues.
Safe drinking water is a human right that should not be determined by your postcode. The NRDC is committed to its efforts to ensure that a waterless day is no longer a living reality in communities across the country due to contamination from lead pipes. Hopefully by next year âImagine a Day Without Waterâ lead pipes will be one less thing to consider.