A new push from President Joe Biden to replace lead service lines in municipal water systems nationwide should open the taps for replacements using plastics.
On Nov. 30, the Biden administration announced a proposal to "strengthen its Lead and Copper Rule that would require water systems to replace lead service lines within 10 years," the White House said in a statement.
That move would impact more than 9.2 million U.S. homes that currently use lead lines, the result of what the administration says is "decades of inequitable infrastructure development and underinvestment."
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $15 billion in funding specifically dedicated to replacing lead service lines and another $11.7 billion is available in general-purpose funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the White House statement noted.
Lead is a major health concern because it can cause severe health issues for the brain and nervous system, especially for children. Lead service lines have been a focus of major replacement projects in communities including Flint, Mich.; Trenton, N.J.; and Chicago.
The White House initiative does not specify what material should be used in replacements, but PVC and polyethylene options have been used widely thanks to lower costs compared with copper and easier installation.
I fully expect there to be some pushback on any plans to use plastics, however. Earlier this year, the environmental group Beyond Plastics published a report saying PVC isn't a safer alternative, although pipe makers point out that the plastics have been used safely for decades, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition is already calling for any final legislation to recommend against plastics.