Island gets the lead out, with Albany’s help

Pipe cleaner: Four municipal efforts on Long Island to replace older lead water pipes have earned Albany's assistance.

Four Long Island projects are included in a $20 million state funding package for municipal projects replacing residential water-service lines made from lead.

Twenty-six individual projects – including jobs in Glen Cove, Hempstead, North Hempstead and Southold – are included in the statewide package, announced Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

The pipe-replacement effort, part of the $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017, targets service pipes containing lead, which become a health risk when they corrode – which occurs naturally with age, and faster when the pipes carry water with high acidity or low mineral content.

Although the construction industry’s use of lead pipes fell out of general favor in the 1930s, many still exist, as do lead-solder fixtures and brass and chrome-plated brass faucets. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that lead-contaminated drinking water accounts for better than 20 percent of an average person’s total lead exposure, with up to 60 percent of infants’ lead exposure coming from formula made with tap water.

Lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to humans even at low exposure levels. It also tends to “bioaccumulate,” according to the EPA, meaning it builds up over time to deliver a more solid punch.

Low exposure levels in children have been linked to central and peripheral nervous system damage, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing and irregular blood-cell activity.

In pregnant women, bioaccumulated lead (it hides in the bones) is released in place of maternal calcium and becomes part of the fetal bone structure, reducing fetal growth rates and often leading to premature birth. Leaden risks for all adults include cardiovascular complications, increased blood pressure and decreased kidney function, according to the EPA.

With the health risks high, the $20 million package announced Monday will fund “critical improvements to New York’s drinking-water infrastructure” that will not only protect the public wellbeing but “lay the foundation for future growth and economic prosperity in these communities,” Cuomo said Monday.

Howard Zucker: Top priority.

“With this $20 million award, we are helping to protect residents and their families across this state,” the governor added.

Long Island’s roughly $2.45 million portion covers three Nassau County service line-replacement projects and one in Suffolk, with each earning an identical $611,363 stipend. The largest award – by region and by individual project – went to New York City, which earned roughly $5.32 million to support a single citywide replacement plan.

Long Island’s haul was second on the list behind NYC, regionally, followed by four projects in the Mid-Hudson region totaling $2.18 million, three Western New York projects earning a combined $1.70 million and three Finger Lakes jobs snagging a $1.61 million sum.

All 10 of the state’s regional economic development zones earned funding in Monday’s package through the Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017’s Lead Service Line Replacement Grant Program, administered by the NYS Department of Health. Program qualifications included a number of criteria, according to the governor’s office, including a municipality’s percentage of children with elevated blood levels, median household income and number of homes built before 1939.

All grant moneys will be used exclusively to replace lead service lines between municipal water mains and residences – a critical improvement for residents whose homes are serviced by older lines, according to Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who insists that “reducing lead exposure, especially in children, should always be a top priority.”

“Public health begins with access to clean drinking water,” the MD said in a statement. “This statewide program to replace residential lead pipes in areas of the state that need it most will improve the health of New Yorkers.”

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