New Federal aid could help lead pipeline removal in Illinois

    by Jonah Chester, Illinois News Connection

Illinois has more lead pipelines than any other state in the nation, but a new plan from the Biden-Harris administration could boost the state's lead-line removal efforts.

The Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan calls for $15 billion over the next decade to replace all the country's lead pipelines.

Angela Guyadeen, director of the Safe Water Initiative for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said financing lead-line removal projects is a major barrier for most communities.

"What's really important to know is that money coming down from the state and also the feds is going to make this process a lot easier," Guyadeen explained. "Many states and communities across the country have said, 'Yeah, well, you know, we really want to replace lead service lines, but it's a really expensive project and there's a lot of other priorities we have to be thinking about.' "

The NRDC estimated as of last June, Illinois had between 700,000 and 1.4 million lead lines. Last summer, the Illinois General Assembly passed a separate measure to begin replacing the state's lead lines. The Chicago Sun-Times reports Illinois will receive $288 million to support the efforts via the federal plan.

The Metropolitan Planning Council noted lead lines are a serious issue in communities of color; 65% of the state's Black and Latin residents live in communities containing 94% of the state's known lead pipelines.

Guyadeen argued the state should ensure the funding to replace the pipelines is equitably distributed. She pointed out the state's current method for distributing such funds, the State Revolving Fund, can be difficult for smaller communities to navigate.

"If you are a mayor or a small-town mayor of a community, and you don't have a lot of resources or consultants, that can be a barrier to accessing these funds," Guyadeen contended.

A separate Metropolitan Planning Council report found replacing all the state's lead pipelines could generate up to 250,000 jobs and $23 billion in new economic activity.

Vice President Kamala Harris, visiting Wisconsin last week, touted the benefits the plan could have for organized labor.

"These investments will result in improved public health, the creation of more jobs, the infusion of support for important apprenticeship programs, and it's just simply the right thing to do," Harris stated.

Exposure to lead can cause several adverse health effects, including anemia, kidney and brain damage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it also can damage the nervous systems of unborn children.

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