Lead piping issue isn’t going away

“Your tap water can hang out in some pretty seedy joints” is the message in close proximity to containers of one brand of bottled water sold by some area stores.

Accompanying that message and, of course, the containers of water for sale is a picture depicting one example of the deteriorating condition to which the company is attempting to draw attention.

Many people look at the picture, say “Yuk,” and then move on. However, some people might ponder opting for the bottled water alternative rather than continuing to rely on the drinking water out of the tap from which they have drunk as long as they have lived at their current address.

Based on latest statistics, proposals by the Biden administration and the resulting debate going on in Congress, “seedy joints” and the aging, deteriorating lead pipes that carry water into most people’s homes should be on the minds of most Americans at this time.

First, the statistics, as reported in the Sept. 18-19 edition of the Wall Street Journal:

* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are 9 million lead service lines in this country, more than a few of which are in the six-county Southern Alleghenies region (Blair, Cambria, Bedford, Somerset, Huntingdon and Fulton). Meanwhile, the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council estimated recently that the correct number of lead service lines is approximately 12.8 million. No matter which number is correct, the situation is staggering, because lead is such a health concern, having been linked to nervous system damage, learning disabilities and slowed growth in children, as well as complications for pregnant women.

* The American Water Works Association estimates the average cost of lead-service-line removal to be about $5,000, although Chicago officials estimate the cost of a complete replacement of a lead service line in that city would be between $15,000 and $26,000. Using the EPA’s pipe-number estimate, the $5,000 figure would add up to an outlay of $45 billion for nationwide replacement, which is the amount President Joe Biden proposed in his infrastructure plan released earlier this year.

* Biden’s proposed replacement plan funding envisions a mix of grants and loans, acknowledging that the behemoth task would take decades to accomplish. What cannot be ignored is that the longer the replacement project is under way, the more the total cost will balloon above $45 billion.

Although many Americans don’t view lead pipes as a tangible health risk, while also still living with lead-based paint and asbestos in their homes, the ongoing deterioration of connected lead piping should not be pooh-poohed on a national scale.

Officials in the Southern Alleghenies region should not be turning their heads away from the issue, and residents of municipalities here should not be reluctant to question their elected officials about the condition of the infrastructure delivering this vital component to their homes and businesses.

They should use that newfound knowledge as a basis for either supporting or opposing what the president is advocating — at least the cost of what is being proposed.

There can be little doubt that the proposed scope of the anti-lead-pipe initiative would provide a big boost to the economy and many jobs, but the health of Americans is the much more important consideration that ought to be factored in to shaping opinions.


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