Environmental groups file complaint over lead pipes

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Five environmental and community groups have filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleging the Providence Water Supply Board’s infrastructure and lead pipe replacement work disproportionately increases the risk of lead exposure for residents of color.

“All families deserve lead-free drinking water, regardless of race, class, or any other factor,” Childhood Lead Action Project Executive Director Laura Brion said in a statement Wednesday. “Right now, ProvWater will only fully replace lead pipes for property owners with enough money to pay out of pocket or take out a loan. This amounts to obvious race and class discrimination and needs to stop.”

The other groups involved are Direct Action for Rights and Equality, South Providence Neighborhood Association, National Center for Healthy Housing, and Environmental Defense Fund.

The complaint asks the EPA to investigate Providence Water and order remedial action.

Providence Water serves about one-third of the state’s population, with more than 27,000 full or partial lead service lines in Providence and surrounding communities.

“Providence Water takes the issue of lead at our customers taps extremely seriously,” spokesperson Christopher Hunter said in a statement. “That is why for the past 10 years we have been working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency and a panel of nationally recognized drinking water experts to develop and implement strategies to reduce lead in drinking water.”

Children are most susceptible to lead poisoning and can suffer “life-long consequences ... including learning disabilities, loss of IQ, and reduced attention span,” according to the state Department of Health. There are multiple possible sources of childhood lead poisoning, including tap water from lead pipes, the agency said.

In Providence Water’s service area, 360 children had elevated blood lead levels in 2020, according to the complaint.

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