EPA calls for lead pipe inventory, pledges further action

In this July 20, 2018 file photo, a lead pipe is shown after being replaced by a copper water supply line to a home in Flint, Mich. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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The federal government is ramping up efforts to find and replace lead pipes, and Atlanta is applying for a grant to do that work.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to find and remove all the lead water pipes in the country. Lead pipes can mean lead in drinking water, which can cause health problems, especially for children.

The agency announced Thursday that it would allow a Trump-era rule that calls for an inventory of lead water pipes to go into effect.

In the same announcement, the EPA agreed with critics that the rule did not go far enough and promised to do better. A new rule calling for the removal of all lead pipes, particularly in disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately affected by high lead levels, is due out in 2024.

The Biden administration also said it would provide nearly $3 billion next year to states for lead pipe removal under the new infrastructure law, with more money coming after that.

That money is key, said Chris Manganiello of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, because finding all the lead is a “Herculean task.”

“It’s not like a telephone pole with wires attached to it that you can just put a ladder up and look at it,” he said. “I mean, this is infrastructure that’s been buried for 100 years.”

That infrastructure includes not just water mains but also lines running to individual houses, businesses and schools, as well as pipes and junctions within the buildings themselves.

The city of Atlanta has already applied for $1 million in American Rescue Plan funding to test the water and find and replace lead pipes to comply with the EPA rule that went into effect Thursday.

In its announcement, the White House clarified that the money for local governments in that bill could indeed be used for lead pipes.