Now, state needs feds to step up to help replace unsafe lead pipe

Illinois can lead on lead pipe removal. We just need the funding to do so.

As a legislator, nothing is more important to me than the health, safety and well-being of my constituents. That's why I was so proud to co-sponsor the Illinois Lead Service Line Notification and Replacement Act this spring to identify and remove dangerous lead pipes from all Illinois homes where they still exist and ban the detrimental practice of partial replacement, which can increase contamination even more.

Lead contamination from water service lines delivers toxic water into our homes, with the potential to cause irreversible brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioral problems and more if consumed, particularly putting our children whose brains are still developing at risk. Illinois has more lead service lines than any state in the country, making it crucial to replace them quickly and efficiently to protect our children and families.

Last month, Gov. Pritzker signed my bill into law, making Illinois only the third state in the nation to mandate the full replacement of all lead service lines. While this was an incredibly important step toward bringing clean drinking water to all our communities, this enormous undertaking will not be possible without the necessary resources to fund such a massive project.

That's why we now need our lawmakers in Washington to pass President Biden's Build Back Better Agenda, which is the solution we need to enable us to replace every last lead pipe in our state.

The Build Back Better Agenda - which includes both the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed by the Senate and the reconciliation bill that's being negotiated in both chambers and expected for a vote any day - would provide the full $45 billion necessary to replace all lead pipe in America at no cost to homeowners. This includes the up to 1.4 million lead service lines found right here in Illinois.

With these funds, we can deliver on the promise that we as a state made to ensure Illinois residents have clean, safe drinking water in their homes, schools and parks.

Here in Illinois, we passed our lead service line bill with bipartisan support, demonstrating a shared commitment and urgency behind bringing clean drinking water to our communities and mirroring the overwhelming support Illinoisans have shown for these proposals. I hope we can count on legislators in Washington to similarly put partisanship aside in this critical moment to pass the full funding needed to replace every lead service line in our country.

Replacing lead service lines will make all of us safer, but it will also help correct the environmental racism in policy decisions of years past that continue to plague vulnerable communities in our state. A 2020 study from E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) showed that Black and Latino residents in Illinois are twice as likely as white residents to live in communities with lead service lines. We cannot let that go unaddressed any longer.

In addition to the clear imperative to improve the health and safety of our families, the Build Back Better agenda would empower us to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in our state - many of them union jobs - for plumbers, excavators and other tradespeople.

A recent study by the Metropolitan Planning Council in Illinois found that replacing all of the state's lead service lines alone could create up to 224,500 jobs and $23 billion in additional economic activity. This is exactly the boost we need as we enter this post-pandemic period and try to get people back to work and our economy back on track.

Illinois took the first step toward guaranteeing lead service line replacement across our state, but now we need the federal government to support us with the resources necessary to make it a reality. It's time for Congress to pass the Build Back Better agenda and pass it now. Let's join together around the health and well-being of our children and future generations in Illinois and every state in this nation.

• State Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, represents the 31st Senate District.

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