Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Vice President Kamala Harris and other top federal officials will be in Pittsburgh on Friday to discuss the replacement of lead pipes as part of the White House’s Build Back Better plan.
While Ms. Harris will be in the city to discuss new funding for programs, agencies across Pittsburgh have already begun to remove lead from the city’s infrastructure in an attempt to pull residents out of a century-old public health crisis.
About 80% of the houses in Allegheny County were built before lead was banned in 1978. That number jumps to 85% within city limits, which means swaths of homes contain lead in their paint, soil, dust and pipes, which could cause deficiencies in child development.
The White House announced the lead pipe and paint action plan in December, a piece of the government’s sweeping infrastructure package that legislators passed in November. The lead pipe, paint and action plan will assemble federal agencies to collaborate with state and local officials to aid in the replacement and remediation of lead infrastructure across the country.
The plan includes billions of dollars in federal funding and grant programs that would assist local officials in financing and accelerating lead remediation programs.
Ms. Harris will be joined by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan to discuss the plans Friday. She has scheduled a midday visit to the Community Empowerment Association in Homewood.
Lead exposure, at any level, can cause long-term, irreversible physical, developmental and behavioral issues in children. Specifically, lead exposure can create hearing and speech problems, lowered IQ, slowed growth, hyperactivity and anemia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An estimated 400 children in Pittsburgh are diagnosed each year with lead poisoning, according to Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh, a lead public awareness campaign.
In an effort to curb lead exposure, agencies like Pennsylvania American Water, which services some residents across the commonwealth, began a lead removal project in Brookline last month after they delayed their removal plans for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The company will systematically replace customer-owned lead service lines with the customer’s consent,” said Gary Lobaugh, the senior manager of government and external affairs at Pennsylvania American Water.
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority — which serves the majority of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Millvale — has been a leader in replacing public and private water lines that contain lead, said Mora McLaughlin, the construction communications project manager at PWSA.
PWSA has a variety of lead line replacement projects across the city, Ms. McLaughlin said, including lead-ridden water main and service line replacements in childcare centers and neighborhoods and free lead test kits.
Ms. McLaughlin estimates that PWSA still has about 8,000 lead lines it still has to address and hopes to complete all the service line replacements by 2026, which is contingent on adequate funding.
None of the free line replacements would be possible without local, state and federal funding, Ms. McLaughlin explained.
“We have a really established program,” she said. “We obviously have tested our methods for many years. We’re ready to put investment dollars to work.”
Ms. Harris is expected to discuss the allocation of $15 billion under the November infrastructure law to replace lead service lines. But as of Thursday evening, it is still unclear which agencies the federal government will allocate the funding to.
In 2018, Allegheny County started requiring all children between 9 and 12 months old to be tested for lead and then tested again at 24 months old. Children in the county who do not receive the mandated early-life lead test will be tested as soon as possible before age 6 or before kindergarten, whichever comes sooner.
The countywide testing is just one gear in the concerted effort to combat lead poisoning in Pittsburgh, said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, the executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment. That organization manages Get Out the Lead Pittsburgh and cofounded the Lead Safe Allegheny coalition.
Alongside mandatory lead screenings for young children, Ms. Naccarati-Chapkis said, free lead service line removal programs and lead paint and soil remediation efforts in Pittsburgh make the city a leader in addressing the infrastructure crisis. She said the city’s lead removal endeavors primes Pittsburgh for Ms. Harris’ Friday visit.
“I think Pittsburgh has a unique story in that we’re making progress,” Ms. Naccarati-Chapkis said.
“We have a very active coalition, an awareness campaign informing and educating families, and we’ve got a lot of collaboration amongst community partners,” she said. “With additional federal funding and investment, we can continue to really make a significant impact and protect the families and households all across the region.”