Revealed: US cities refusing to replace toxic lead water pipes unless residents pay


Elena Bautista didn’t pay much attention to the work crews that rolled down her street last year. They planned to remove water pipes made of lead, a toxin that can permanently damage children’s brains.

But they skipped the tenement building where Bautista and her two kids lived.

They dug up pipes only at the homes of those who paid or took out loans for thousands of dollars, as well as under the public streets. Worse, the removal work risked causing a significant spike of toxic water for weeks, maybe months, in the homes of those unable to pay for it.

Bautista lives in Providence, Rhode Island, a city with a history of severe lead problems, yet this practice is happening all over the US. Pipes made of lead, a material not safe in any amount, supply tap water to millions of homes such as Bautista’s. To completely halt contamination, there is no other option but to rip the lead pipes out of the ground and change them for a different material.

But according to a Guardian investigation, some US cities are now essentially telling residents: pay up for the replacement or get more poison in your water.

America’s massive lead problem came into focus in 2015, when thousands of mostly Black residents in the city of Flint, Michigan, were found to have been poisoned by lead in their drinking water. Since then it has become clear that this problem is systemic and widespread, and that many other Americans lack access to a fundamental right: water that is reliably safe and clean.

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The Guardian, 20-07-22