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February 03, 2023

Philadelphia gets $500 million to replace lead pipes, improve water infrastructure

President Joe Biden is stopping at the Belmont Water Treatment Plant to detail new federal investments

Philadelphia is receiving $500 million from the federal government to upgrade its water facilities and equipment, including the replacement of more than 19 miles of water mains and service lines. 

President Joe Biden has sought to replace all the lead service lines in the country within the next 10 years. Though many U.S. homes no longer have lead pipes, corroded lead service lines can allow the metal to enter the water supply. Lead exposure can cause developmental delays and other health issues in young children. 

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the Belmont Water Treatment Plant on Friday afternoon to detail the new investments before later addressing the Democratic National Committee winter meeting.   

Philadelphia will receive $160 million from bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021 and a $340 million Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The first $19 million of that loan will be used to replace 160 lead service lines and 13 miles of water mains. 

Last month, the Philadelphia Water Department requested to increase service rates by nearly 12% in September and by another 8% in September 2024. The proposed rate changes would bring an estimated $144 million for the water department, allowing it to address its increased cost of operations and infrastructure needs. 

Biden's stop in Philly marks the third time this week that he has visited cities to tout projects that are benefitting from the infrastructure law. He previously visited Baltimore and New York City. 

Last week, the EPA detailed a new initiative to accelerate the replacement of lead service lines. It will help communities develop service line replacement plans, identify lead pipes and boost community outreach efforts. Ten Pennsylvania communities are participating. 

"The science is clear — there is no safe level of exposure to lead," EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said. "EPA is committed to partnering with states and communities to protect children and families and ensure our nation's drinking water pipes are lead-free."

Lead contamination of drinking water most commonly occurs as the result of corrosion to in-home plumbing materials, according to the EPA. Because of this, the agency requires water systems to control the corrosivity of their water and to take tap samples from sites served by the system that are more likely to have plumbing materials containing lead. If more than 10% of the samples exceed 15 lead parts per billion, water systems must take additional actions, including the replacement of lead service lines.

Pennsylvania has received $8.1 billion from the 2021 infrastructure bill to fund road and bridge repairs, clean and safe water access, public transit improvements, clean energy initiatives and pollution reduction.