By Adam Swift
A change in a federal grant funding formula for the replacement of lead line services would have a negative impact on local communities, according to state and local leaders.
Last week, Governor Maura Healey, Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell, and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg submitted a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan urging him to reconsider a new grant formula that has reduced lead service line replacement funding to Massachusetts by more than $30 million.
The EPA’s new data and methodology has cut nearly half the Massachusetts share of funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Lead Service Line Grant. Massachusetts received $65,783,000 in fiscal year 2022, but was only allocated $33,700,000 for 2023 and future years of the program.
“Massachusetts has made great progress in removing lead service lines so that all of our communities can rely on clean drinking water,” said Healey. “The historic federal investments made possible by President Biden and our congressional delegation have been instrumental in these efforts, and we ask the Environmental Protection Agency to provide us the resources so we can together continue advancing this important work.”
In Chelsea, City Manager Fidel Maltez said his city has invested a tremendous amount of money in removing lead lines in the main pipes in the streets.
“However, there remains a significant amount of lead lines from the streets into the houses,” said Maltez. “These are typically the responsibility of the property owner, but they are a significant cost, especially in a community like Chelsea, they have a significant barrier. Landlords don’t want to spend $10,000 – $15,000 to remove a lead line into a property.”
Through grant and funding mechanisms, Maltez said Chelsea has been able to assist property owners with those costs.
Local communities have been able to use a variety of funding to help address the lead service line issues.
Last year in Winthrop, the Town Council approved a $980,000 zero interest loan from the MWRA to pay for the removal and replacement of about 100 lead lines, according to public works director Steve Calla.
Calla said the Department of Environmental Protection has increased the number of lead water service lines the town is required to remove each year. In addition to full lead service lines, the DEP is now mandating the removal of partial lead service lines in their calculations, he said.
Calla said there 423 of the full lead service lines remaining in town, and about 400 partial lead service lines.
In Revere late last year, city officials warned of the potential of high levels of lead in the drinking water of homes with lead service lines and urged residents to remove the lines.
The City of Revere Water and Engineering Departments removed 68 lead services and confirmed 32 services to be non-lead, this fiscal year. All lead services included in the tests done in October were also removed, city officials stated late last year.
“I applaud the Governor’s office for pushing back on Lead Abatement funding,” said Revere Mayor Patrick Keefe. “Providing safe drinking water is a basic function of government. I am hopeful we continue to receive the appropriate amount of funding until lead is no longer a concern for our water systems.
“Contamination from lead pipes disproportionately hurts our historically marginalized populations and environmental justice communities,” said Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll. “We ask the EPA to reconsider these changes in their funding allocations to ensure that federal dollars are distributed most effectively to Massachusetts and states across the country.”
Campbell said lead pipes are known to contaminate the water people drink, including in homes and schools, and pose serious health risks for Massachusetts residents, especially children and those living in underserved communities.
“We are deeply committed to ensuring the safety of our drinking water, protecting the public’s health, and supporting our communities across the entire state,” said Goldberg, who is also Chair of the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust. “There are very serious concerns with the EPA’s data that will hinder this vital work, and we urge them to reevaluate their position. The well-being of Massachusetts residents, particularly our most vulnerable, depend on the continuity of these critical resources.”
The EPA’s lead remediation programs are a realization of President Biden’s goal to remove 100 percent of lead service lines nationwide and address the critical public health and environmental justice challenges that come from lead-contaminated drinking water, according to Healey. This includes the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund which has $15 billion in funding nationally from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), signed by President Biden in 2021.
The letter from Governor Healey and state leaders identifies Massachusetts’s unique needs for lead remediation funding based on the high percentage of housing stock from before 1940, when the use of lead in service lines was prevalent and emphasizes how the effects of this today cause disproportionate lead exposure in communities of color. “The reductions in EPA funding could dramatically limit Massachusetts’s incredible work addressing our unique challenges with lead service lines,” said Director of Federal Funds and Infrastructure Quentin Palfrey. “Massachusetts has shown the ability to impactfully use federal funding to make progress on this public health crisis, and we will continue our efforts to secure each and every federal dollar that enables this work to continue.”