On August 11th, NYLCV co-hosted a policy roundtable focused on lead service line replacement with Congressman Paul Tonko, the representative for New York’s 20th congressional district, held at his district office in Albany.
Lead service lines, which deliver water to older homes, are one of the most common ways in which we are exposed to lead. In fact, at least 9.2 million U.S homes have lead pipes, and there are an estimated 12.8 million lead pipes nationwide. Per the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), New York is estimated to have the fourth-highest number of lead pipes in the country.
The proliferation of lead services lines across New York State and the country comes at a high cost to our health. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Lead exposure can cause irreparable neurological damage, learning disabilities, aggravated behavior, and decreased cognitive ability. The cost to replace lead service lines is equally high, with an estimated price tag of $45 billion needed to address the full scope of lead service line replacement nationwide, with $1.8 billion to $3.6 billion of this needed in New York alone.
To discuss this issue and the work Representative Tonko has done to elevate the need for funding for lead service line replacement in crucial federal legislative packages- including securing $15 billion in funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill- we brought together policy experts across sectors. These experts included Congressman Tonko, NYLCV President Julie Tighe, NRDC’s Interim Senior Director for Water Initiatives & Senior Attorney, People & Communities Program Joan Leary Matthews, Section Head of the Division of General Pediatrics Dr. Carrin Schottler-Thal, and City of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.
“There is no safe level of lead in our water, and even minimal exposure can bring a lifetime of painful consequences,” Congressman Tonko said. “If we fail to make the investments that remove this dangerous contaminant from our drinking water, our vulnerable populations, our low-income communities and our children will be the ones who suffer most. I’ve long been pushing for robust funding that replaces every lead water line in the country and makes investments to rebuild and repair our broken water systems. I am grateful for the strong action from local leaders in our Capital Region to ensure clean drinking water. Congress must support and expand these efforts by delivering the necessary resources that get the job done to protect our kids and our communities.”
Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “As Congress continues to negotiate the Build Back Better climate recovery package proposed by President Biden, we are fortunate to have a champion in Congressman Tonko who is fighting for the resources we need for lead poisoning prevention. We were happy to join him and our partners to support a bold and aggressive investment that would improve drinking water quality and public health and create jobs by eliminating all lead pipes and service lines. We look forward to continuing to work with him to ensure that clean drinking water infrastructure is a top priority in the final legislation.”