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U.S. lawmakers have introduced a bill to eliminate lead in the nation's drinking water supply after high levels of the toxic metal were found in the capital's tap water.
The Lead-Free Drinking Water Act, introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives yesterday, would require utilities across the country to test their water immediately, and sets stricter standards for notifying customers of problems.
It also would provide $200 million a year for four years to utilities to help them meet new tougher standards for replacing lead service lines, believed to be a main source of lead in drinking water.
"It is time to get the lead out of the pipes, out of the water and out of our families and out of our lives," said Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, a bill co-sponsor and an independent member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the United States needs to spend $265 billion over the next 20 years to maintain and improve drinking water systems, according to Jeffords.
"If we don't address this, we'll be facing more and more health and environmental issues as our nation's water infrastructure degrades," he said.
So far the bill has no Republican sponsors, but Jeffords said he is confident they would sign on quickly.
It would set aside $40 million for pipe replacement in Washington, where tap water in thousands of homes last year showed lead levels above 15 parts per billion the point at which federal law requires public notice and remedial action.
The water in some homes showed levels more than 30 times higher than the federal threshold, but residents say the city sent only a proforma letter informing them of the results and health authorities failed to follow up.
The problems did not grab public attention until media reports highlighted them in January.
EPA officials say Washington's problems are isolated, but Jeffords said he has little confidence in the agency.
The Washington Post reported last month that concentrations of lead in Boston-area drinking water also exceeded EPA's national standards.
Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, is co-sponsoring the drinking water bill in the House of Representatives.