In 2014, Flint, Mich. became a national headline. After the city began supplying residents with water from the Flint River, families and businesses began to notice that the water from their taps looked, smelled, and tasted contaminated, but the city claimed it was safe. A study conducted the following year by researchers at Virginia Tech revealed the problem: Citywide lead levels had spiked, with nearly 17 percent of samples registering above the federal “action level”; more than 40 percent measured at the level of “very serious” problem. By then, tens of thousands of Flint residents had already been exposed to dangerous levels of lead, and outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, which can be caused by water-borne bacteria, had sickened — and tragically killed — over a dozen members of the community.

Today, lead levels in Flint are below the federal action level, but thousands of Flint residents are still getting their water from lead pipes. And it’s not just Flint — 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and child-care centers lack safe drinking water.

Massachusetts is no exception. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that approximately 3,200 service lines across the city of Malden — 25 percent of its all pipes — contain lead.

While there are important differences in the way water distribution is handled in Massachusetts, which distinguish Malden from Flint, the fact remains that Flint, Malden, and towns and cities across the country are facing decades of underfunded water infrastructure. According to a 2017 report from the Massachusetts state auditor, the state has an estimated 220,000 lead service lines (more than half of the 43,000 faucets tested revealed lead in school drinking water) and an estimated $17.8 billion in unmet spending needs on water infrastructure.

President Biden recently signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which contains the country’s largest investment in America’s infrastructure in a generation. It invests $55 billion in water infrastructure, eliminates all lead service pipes in America, and puts the nation on the path to ensure that everyone in America has access to clean drinking water everywhere — at work, at home, and at school.

This is about more than just the taste and appearance of the water you drink: Lead can cause irreversible and life-long health problems, including decreased focus and academic achievement. For children and young people, lead exposure can derail their entire academic trajectory, and their life.

Access to drinkable water is a health issue, but it’s also a racial and environmental justice issue. Lead poisoning is higher among Black Americans and in Tribal Nations than among white Americans, and higher in inner cities and among low-income families due to systemic racism within urban planning. Since 1976, federal investments in drinking water infrastructure have steadily decreased. As a result, local municipalities and states are left to pick up the cost of needed maintenance, repairs, and further investment. It is often environmental justice communities that are unable to finance the infrastructure improvements needed to provide safe drinking water.

As our nation works to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic and ensure that every American has a chance at success, ensuring that every one of us has access to clean, lead-free water is non-negotiable. Water is not a luxury. It is a fundamental necessity to sustain life, and it should be treated as such.

Biden has signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the funding to improve, modernize, and strengthen our lead pipe infrastructure is already on its way to municipalities and Tribal Nations across the country. From Flint to Malden, Americans will turn on their taps to clean, clear, drinkable water, and that is something to celebrate.

US Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts is assistant speaker of the House of Representatives. Malden Community Organizing for Racial Equity (MaldenCORE) is a volunteer-led group in Malden that is dedicated to undoing racism in our public schools and community. Clean Water Action works to protect the environment, health, economic well-being and community quality of life.

Original story HERE