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EDITORIAL: Lead pipes should go

Joplin Globe - 12/6/2023

Dec. 5—Missouri, Kansas and the rest of America have a problem with lead; an EPA plan announced Thursday would give utilities 10 years to enact a needed remedy.

The rule change would require utilities to remove and swap out lead service lines that carry water from the water mains into our homes. The measure also would lower the limit for lead in drinking water by one-third.

Why is removing lead water lines important?

There is no safe level of lead in the blood, and the metal is especially dangerous for children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that evidence shows exposure to lead in childhood can cause lasting harm. According to the CDC, lead exposure in children can result in:

—Damage to the brain and nervous system.

—Slowed growth and development.

—Learning and behavior problems.

—Hearing and speech problems.

These can result in children having lower IQ, decreased ability to pay attention and difficulty in school.

A study by doctors at Boston Children's Hospital and Quest Diagnostics published in 2021 found that more than 80% of Missouri children had some level of lead in their blood. In Kansas, 65% of kids had detectable levels.

Americans have taken action to reduce lead exposure. We have removed lead from house paint. We have stopped using it as an additive in gasoline. We have stopped making toys with lead, lead paint or colorants. We have identified and remediated mines and smelters. We have cleaned up tailing sites — do you remember the big chat piles in our area? Mostly gone now.

We no longer install lead pipes for plumbing, but a lot of lead lines remain in the ground.

People in Missouri and Kansas risk lead exposure from drinking water at greater rates than most other states, a recent report found.

Utilities shouldn't be surprised by this move. The challenge is that there is no comprehensive inventory or map tracking lead lines, so some utility companies don't know where their remaining lead service lines are. Many have already undertaken the switch, but the deadline will help to ensure that adequate progress is being made.

Christie Barnhart, external affairs manager with Missouri American Water — the utility that supplies water to Joplin — said in an earlier email that Missouri American has replaced approximately 3,900 such lines in Missouri and that the company's goal is to replace all lead service lines in its system by 2030. Success in that endeavor would put them within the revised window. We applaud their effort.

Regardless of proposed EPA action, lead service lines need to be removed to protect our children. It's a lead-pipe cinch.


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