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Safe, clean water is the most fundamental in US

Now that President Joe Biden has signed the $550 billion infrastructure legislation, $15 billion will be spent to remove lead from the nation’s drinking-water systems. Of all the economic and social necessities in the spending package — from roadways and bridges to the power grid and broadband expansion — ensuring access to safe, clean water is perhaps the most fundamental.
Biden visited Michigan to promote his bill and he might want to consider Benton Harbor, a predominantly Black, low-income community on the shores of Lake Michigan that neighbors many predominantly White, more affluent communities. Three years ago, the state told Benton Harbor’s residents that their drinking water contained unsafe levels of lead — reminiscent of the infamous public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, that started in 2014. Replacing Benton Harbor’s lead service pipes would cost $30 million and take 20 years, the state said, so instead it began distributing free water filters to residents.
The filters apparently didn’t work. As environmental and community groups sounded more alarms and petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in, Michigan finally prioritised the crisis. Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, declared an
“all-hands-on-deck” emergency in Benton Harbor in October. The state recently advised residents to avoid the taps in their homes altogether and drink bottled water. In early November, the EPA ordered Benton Harbor to overhaul its water system to comply with federal drinking water laws. Last week, the state began removing the city’s old pipes, and $18.6 million in federal and state funds have been earmarked for the task. Supplemental funding from Biden’s infrastructure plan should pay the rest. Whitmer says she now hopes to finish the job in just 18 months.
No one in the world’s wealthiest and most innovative country should lack access to potable water, and yet here we are. Lead is a vicious neurotoxin that causes cognitive damage even in small amounts, and it is particularly harmful to children. For three years, 10,000 Americans in Benton Harbor have lived with that threat. They’re not alone. Several million lead service lines remain in place across the country, largely in low-income areas and communities of color. Biden’s infrastructure plan will address a significant portion of this problem, but some analysts estimate that it will take $60 billion — four times the new federal outlay — to complete the work.
None of this spending amounts to a giveaway. The US enjoyed historic economic growth in the post-World War II era through the creation of a large middle class that enjoyed steadily improving wages and living standards.


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