LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For years, we've known about the harmful effects lead in drinking water can have on the public, especially children, but millions of lead pipes still exist throughout the country.
Now, most U.S. cities would have to replace lead water pipes within 10 years under strict new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency as the Biden administration moves to reduce lead in drinking water and prevent public health crises like the ones in Flint, Michigan and Washington, D.C.
"This is as much about public health as it is about equity," said Mike McNutt, the communications manager for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District. "Everyone deserves to have clean water as a human right. Everyone deserves to have healthy children and a healthy lifestyle. This is long overdue. It's something that's going to benefit the entire country."
Millions of people consume drinking water from lead pipes and the agency said tighter standards would improve IQ scores in children and reduce high blood pressure and heart disease in adults.
According to estimates from the EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council, there could be between 13,000 and 65,000 lead pipes in California.
For both estimates, California has the lowest rate of estimated lead pipes per 100,000 people of any state in the country.
The NRDC found removing these pipes in California could save between $1 billion and $5.5 billion in health costs over the next 35 years.
"For short term, let's talk about adults. Especially those who are pregnant, there could be an effect on the mother and the baby, but mostly on the baby with the development of the baby," said Charlie Abraham, the Chief Medical Officer at Dignity Health St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino. "Also, low sperm count in men. Low blood count that could cause a condition called anemia."
Studies on the long-term effects of lead point to increased death rates, mortality related to heart disease, increased blood pressure, kidney issues and digestive issues.
The move is the strongest overhaul of lead rules in more than three decades, and will cost billions of dollars.
The EPA estimates this could cost $20 billion to 30 $billion for utility companies to pull off, with $15 billion available in federal dollars from the 2021 infrastructure law.
"When you own a home that pre-dates any real known understanding of how lead is a potential public health issue, the fact that there's this pot of money that's going to be earmarked to remove those hazardous pipes and infrastructure from people's homes is a testament to real need, and the empathy, and the equity, that comes with making sure everyone has safe clean water," said McNutt.