Democrat or Republican, we can all agree that lead in drinking water is bad. That was the takeaway from President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address last month, where he discussed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and how it has funded 20,000 projects since the legislation passed in 2021. Among other things, the BIL includes $15 billion to remove and replace lead service lines across the country.

“We’re also replacing poisonous lead pipes that go into 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and childcare centers, so every child in America can drink clean water instead of having permanent damage to their brain,” Biden said in his speech.

UNICEF and Pure Earth released a report in 2020 showcasing how lead poisoning affects more children globally than previously thought — about one in three children were found to have higher lead levels in their blood than what's considered safe. In children, the health effects on a developing nervous system, particularly in those under the age of five, can contribute to long-term diminished IQ scores, academic achievement, and ability to pay attention. Lead exposure has also been shown to adversely impact mental health and increase crime and violence, according to the report. Additionally, the report finds that long-term health effects of lead exposure, such as kidney damage and cardiovascular disease, account for an estimated 900,000 deaths per year.

So, we agree. Lead is bad.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there are between 6 million to 10 million lead service lines still in use in the United States.

In January, the White House announced a new “Get the Lead Out Partnership,” a coalition of federal government, states, Tribes, local communities, nongovernmental organizations, water utilities, labor unions and private companies who have pledged to work together to identify new opportunities, resources and actions to take together to help accelerate the Administration’s goal of accelerating the replacement of 100 percent of the Nation’s lead service lines in 10 years. 

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a new partnership with four states — Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — to create Lead Service Line Replacement Accelerators to drive progress on removing lead service lines. This action will enhance the effectiveness of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments to advance progress on President Biden’s goal of removing of lead pipes all across America.

The emphasis the Biden administration has placed on lead service line replacement is overdue, but most welcome. While the topic is gaining national attention, many in the plumbing industry are already aware of and understand the dangers, including IAPMO CEO Dave Viola, who wrote about it in a column published by Forbes, emphasizing the role nonprofit organizations can play in this endeavor. In his column, Viola says the starting point is to educate yourself about lead and evaluate the potential for lead in your facility’s drinking water.

“Beyond your facilities, all nonprofit leaders can be advocates to remove lead from drinking water,” Viola writes. “Leaders can build partnerships and coalitions with local organizations and stakeholders in support of effective policies. California's AB 100, Washington's HB 1139 and Utah's HB 21 are all good examples of legislation that outlines expectations and timelines on forward progress, including how often water quality needs to be tested in public centers like daycares and schools.”

Sharing stories of those affected by poor water quality is another tactic to employ, Viola notes in his column.

The plumbing industry can be a bridge and help with the education factor. Educate your customers on the dangers of lead and the resources available for testing facility drinking water. Share those water quality horror stories and success stories you’ve encountered in your career.

Our work is not over yet. As Biden said in his address, “We’re just getting started.”