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Grand Rapids awarded $5.1M in federal funding to replace lead water service lines

BY Friday, October 23, 2020 11:45am

GRAND RAPIDS — Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in Grand Rapids Friday morning that nearly $40 million in new funding from the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act will be issued to communities across the country.

The funding will go toward helping remove sources of lead in drinking water infrastructure in various communities in Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at a press conference at Grand Valley State University. 

Andrew Wheeler COURTESY PHOTO

The city of Grand Rapids will receive $5.1 million to replace old water service lines that contain lead in disadvantaged communities in 17 contiguous census tracts that have a concentration of lead pipes, Wheeler said. 

A service line is a pipe that connects the water main, usually running under the street, to a resident’s property. The city of Grand Rapids is in the process of replacing its lead water service lines. As of February this year, 24,635 lead water service lines remained, many located close to the city’s core, according to a presentation made to the Grand Rapids City Commission.

“To be frank, this attention has been a long time coming,” Wheeler said. “For many decades we’ve known that thousands of lead water service lines were being used in communities across the country and that these lead pipes increased the risk of lead exposure in these areas.”

President Obama signed the WIIN Act into law in December 2016. It initially authorized $170 million for communities facing emergencies with their drinking water infrastructure. 

Lead pipes and fittings have remained in use for decades, even after lead paint was banned for new construction in the U.S. in the 1970s, Wheeler said. There is no safe level of lead exposure in children that has been identified, and it can lead to serious harm to a child’s health, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The EPA understands low-income communities have dealt with more than their fair share of pollution for many decades, while other less-polluted places have prospered,” Wheeler said. 

Also on Friday, Wheeler planned to travel to Benton Harbor to announce $5.6 million of the grant funding for the replacement of lead water services.

The WIIN grant announced on Friday takes Michigan “a step closer to addressing a critical need,” Bonnifer Ballard, executive director of the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association, said at the press conference.

“Over the coming decade, we will need to invest significantly in updating our water infrastructure if we are going to avoid catastrophic water interruptions and keep clean, safe water flowing in homes and businesses,” Ballard said. 

Ballard encouraged citizens that are approached by their city about replacing lead service lines to go through with the update. Residents should also take it a step further and have their home plumbing inspected for any other potential lead exposures, Ballard said. 

“This is a critically serious issue, and we need to continue to come together to guarantee safe drinking water for southwest Michigan’s communities,” U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said during the press conference.

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