$50B investment will address contaminants in US drinking water, EPA announces

On Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced funding that U.S. states, Tribes and territories will receive in 2022 through the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address key challenges like lead in drinking water and other contamination. 

According to the EPA, the funding, provided through EPA’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs, will "create jobs while upgrading America’s aging water infrastructure." 

In a letter sent to governors Thursday, the EPA Administrator Michael Regan encouraged states to maximize the impact of water funding from the law to "address disproportionate environmental burdens in historically underserved communities across the country." 

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"Today I’m announcing @EPA’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law 2022 funding – $50 billion – for states, Tribes, and territories to upgrade water infrastructure and improve drinking water," Regan wrote on Twitter. "More importantly I’m calling on states to prioritize these resources in underserved communities."

According to Regan, the EPA will allocate $7.4 billion for 2022, with nearly half of the funding available as grants or principal forgiveness loans that remove barriers to investing in essential water infrastructure in underserved communities across rural America and in urban centers.

The 2022 allocation is the first of five years of EPA SRF funding that states will receive through the infrastructure deal.

"As leaders, we must seize this moment. Billions of dollars are about to start flowing to states and it is critical that EPA partners with states, Tribes, and territories to ensure the benefits of these investments are delivered in the most equitable way," Regan continued to governors. 

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Regan recently completed a "Journey to Justice" tour across the Southern U.S. to hear from families and advocates about struggles with exposure to water pollution in communities. 

The investment announcement also comes on the heels of a study published last month revealing that cancer-causing, toxic chemicals are unknowingly being consumed by millions of Americans when they ingest tap water. 

The Environmental Working Group released its 2021 "State of American Drinking Water" in November. 

"For too many Americans, turning on their faucets for a glass of water is like pouring a cocktail of chemicals," the group said in its report. "Lead, arsenic, the ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS and many other substances are often found in drinking water at potentially unsafe levels, particularly in low-income and underserved communities."

Researchers published their "Tap Water Database" after collecting mandatory test reports from 2014 to 2019 produced by 50,000 water utilities from all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

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They said their research revealed that when some Americans drink a glass of tap water, they’re also potentially ingesting "a dose of industrial or agricultural contaminants linked to cancer, brain and nervous system damage, fertility problems, hormone disruption and other health harms."

Researchers believe those risks increase in low-income communities with a higher population of Black and Hispanic Americans.

The study’s authors said major federal funding is needed to improve the country’s drinking water, as well as replace lead pipes.

"There are challenges when it comes to delivering safe drinking water to millions of families who currently don’t have it," researchers continued. "But they can be solved when the public and our elected officials come together around a common purpose: the right of every American, regardless of race, region or income, to have clean water."

The $1 Trillion infrastructure plan was signed into law last month and included $15 billion to replace lead pipes. 

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Federal regulations over the years have banned the use of lead in plumbing systems, but some pipes and service lines that were built before the rules were enacted have yet to be replaced. The White House said lead pipes continue to serve an estimated 400,000 schools and child care centers and 6 million to 10 million homes.

Researchers pointed to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan as an example of the issue.

In 2014 and 2015, Flint’s water was pulled from the Flint River, a money-saving decision that was made by state-appointed managers who were running the ailing city. The highly corrosive water wasn’t properly treated before it flowed through aging pipes to roughly 100,000 residents, causing lead to leach from old pipes.

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The disaster in majority-Black Flint has been described as environmental racism. In 2016, a task force appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, said his environmental agency misapplied lead-and-copper rules and "caused this crisis to happen."

Flint’s water quality greatly improved after it returned to a regional water supplier and replaced thousands of lead or steel service lines. Nine people, including Snyder, were charged with crimes in January after a new investigation. Their cases are pending.

The Associated Press and Chris Williams contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.