RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Health Department will receive $46 million in federal funding to replace lead water lines throughout the state, in an effort to fight contamination in the commonwealth’s drinking water.
The funding, which came as part of the Infrastructure Act passed last year, goes to the state Office of Drinking Water, which oversees health standards for the patchwork of local systems that provide water to Virginia households.
“Too many of our water systems were built with technologies that were right at the time, but now we realize they pose health risks to people,” said Senator Tim Kaine.
The funding comes on the heels of a water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, where a sudden shutdown of the city’s water services has compounded a long-standing lead contamination issue. There, the Republican state legislature has largely refused to lend assistance to the majority-Black city, which faces billions in much-needed repairs to alleviate the crisis.
“As we have seen with the situation in Jackson, Mississippi, maintaining our water infrastructure is critical for the health and safety of our communities. We are glad to see these federal funds go towards necessary infrastructure improvements that will replace lead water systems in the Commonwealth,” Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner wrote in a joint statement.
According to the World Health Organization, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, and even trace amounts can have serious consequences, especially with long exposure. Bottled water is required to be below 5 parts per billion, while municipal water systems can have up to 15 ppb before they’re compelled by federal law to take action.
In Virginia, dozens of counties have water systems with lead above the 5 ppb threshold, with the largest number of affected residents living in western Virginia.
In Bedford county alone, more than 30,000 residents — over a third of the population — were drinking potentially contaminated water.
The $46 million will be distributed to local governments through grants from the Office of Drinking Water. Recipients of those grants have not yet been announced.
“I don’t think that’s enough to solve the entire problem,” Kaine said. “But I think it’s gonna help a number of local communities make a big advance in solving the problem.”