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Young backs bill to protect public housing residents from lead in drinking water

Among other things, the bill would require those who maintain public housing to test for lead, notify residents if it was found, and help reduce their lead exposure through things like water filters.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) is sponsoring a bill to protect people living in public housing from lead in drinking water.

Among other things, the proposed bill – Get the Lead Out of Assisted Housing Act – would require those who maintain public housing to test for lead, notify residents if it was found, and help reduce their lead exposure through things like water filters.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would also have to test drinking water as part of grant programs to clean up homes with lead paint. It would also prohibit the agency from allowing partial lead pipe replacements.

Debbie Chizewer is the managing attorney for the group Earthjustice for their Midwest office. She said a lot of federally-assisted housing has too many exposures to lead — not only in the drinking water and paint, but in the soil around many of the homes.

“Addressing these in a comprehensive way could lead to meaningful results and better health for communities. And so I'm glad to see some action and I hope that there'll be even more," Chizewer said.

READ MORE: Report: Government not protecting lower-income neighborhoods from pollution

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Two years ago, an internal watchdog group for HUD produced a report that said the agency wasn’t doing enough to keep people safe. HUD's Office of Inspector General found the agency only requires testing the water in homes if the public drinking water supply is deemed unsafe.

“We all know that lead can be in the lines between the utility and the home — anywhere along that. Like in the mains, and then in the lines that go from the mains to the home, and even in the home," Chizewer said.

The report also found that some public housing authorities didn’t take action until lead levels reached 15 parts per billion.

While the Environmental Protection Agency uses that standard to figure out if corrosion control for lead pipes is working, it’s not based on what’s safe for people to drink. For example, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t allow bottled water to have more than 5 ppb of lead.

Chizewer said though providing water filters for people in public housing is a good temporary fix while lead pipes are being replaced, it’s important that those filters are changed out often — otherwise it can actually add more lead to the water.

Aside from Young, the bill is also backed by U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). A similar bill has been proposed in the U.S. House. Young was unavailable for comment.

Contact reporter Rebecca at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

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Rebecca Thiele