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House approves Flint aid; More action on lead needed

Wednesday night, the House of Representatives passed its version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) by a wide margin. Before the final vote, the House approved an amendment by Michigan Representative Dan Kildee that authorizes $170 million in infrastructure funding to address Flint’s lead contamination crisis. The bill will now be conferenced with the Senate’s version of WRDA, with votes expected on the resulting conference report when Congress returns to DC after the November election. A big thank you to all our supporters who have made phone calls so far!

The House vote is welcome in a week when we’re learning even more about the extent of the infrastructure needs in Flint, and hearing more evidence that U.S. problems with lead are not confined to Flint and are not just with our water systems.

The Flint water contamination crisis has been a wake-up call about the hidden dangers of lead in communities across the country. We are learning more about the number of water supplies that are at risk, and that there are legacy exposures to lead in the paint in older homes and in the yards of communities like East Chicago.

This week we read the latest report about a neighborhood in East Chicago, Illinois — more than a thousand residents of the West Calumet public housing complex are being forced to move because the EPA has detected dangerously high levels of lead in the soil in some families’ yards. Children have been told not to play outdoors because of the health threat. When the families leave, the buildings will be demolished.

The outrage of the East Chicago story is multi-layered. The fact that homes and an elementary school were built on such a polluted site is outrageous on its own. That EPA found the problem decades after the lead industry left town is alarming. The conflict between what the state of Indiana seems to have known about children’s blood lead levels and what the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reported in 2011 highlights a dangerous communication gap between the state and federal agencies that must be addressed. In February, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin introduced the TEST KIDs Act (S. 2586) to require states to report elevated blood lead levels to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate clusters of elevated blood lead levels.

When Congress returns to Washington after the election for a “lame duck” session, they will vote on a conference of the House and Senate versions of WRDA before it goes to the President’s desk. The conferees should deliver the most Flint aid as quickly as possible and should also adopt the provisions in the Senate bill that address other exposures to lead, including funding for the childhood lead poisoning prevention program, the Healthy Homes Initiative, and the Healthy Start Initiative.

Take our action and let your member of Congress know that the final water resources bill that goes to the President should include funding for Flint and funding to prevent future water crises in communities across the U.S.