President Joe Biden announced Thursday $3 billion toward identifying and replacing the nation’s unsafe lead pipes, a long-sought move to improve public health and clean drinking water that will be paid for by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Biden unveiled the new funding in North Carolina, a battleground state Democrats have lost to Donald Trump in the past two presidential elections but are feeling more bullish toward due to an abortion measure on the state’s ballot this November.

“These lead lines are tough, durable, and they don’t rust,” Biden said while delivering remarks in Wilmington. “But we’ve long since learned they leach poisonous toxins into our water.”

“The science is clear,” the president added, “lead service lines pose severe health risks, damaging brains and kidneys. In children especially, they stunt growth, slow learning, and cause lasting brain damage. But we know we can stop it. We know how to do it.”

The Environmental Protection Agency will invest $3 billion in the lead pipe effort annually through 2026, Administrator Michael Regan told reporters. He said that nearly 50% of the funding will go to disadvantaged communities – and a fact sheet from the Biden administration noted that “lead exposure disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income families.”

The three years of funding is expected to affect up to 1.7 million lead pipes nationwide, the fact sheet said.

The funding was allocated by the projected amount of lead pipes per state and territory, with Illinois receiving the largest grant of $240 million from the first $3 billion tranche. That comes as a March study by the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that more than two-thirds of children under the age of 6 in Chicago may be exposed to lead-contaminated water.

Lead is toxic to humans, and there is no safe level of exposure, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure is not typically apparent right away, but it can cause developmental delays in children. Initial symptoms of lead poisoning may include head, stomach and muscle aches; vomiting; anemia; irritability; fatigue; and weight loss.

“Until the United States of America, God love us, deals with this, how can we say we’re a leading nation in the world?” Biden said.

White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi called it a “moral responsibility” to provide Americans with clean air and clean water.

“We talk about the infrastructure law and we think about those big projects that line our landscapes. We very rarely think about the pipes underneath our feet. It’s so often that the United States has underinvested in those invisible things that create massive challenges to our flourishing, to the health of our kids, to us living up to the values of a more perfect union,” Zaidi said.

The trip also comes on the heels of an all-hands-on-deck Biden campaign messaging push on abortion highlighting recent comments from former President Donald Trump, as well as a trip by Vice President Kamala Harris to Florida, where a restrictive, six-week abortion ban went into effect this week. Biden campaign officials believe that the issue of abortion will galvanize moderate voters and are looking favorably toward North Carolina as a pickup target.

The state is receiving a $76 million grant from the $3 billion allotment, and Biden was expected to meet with faculty and students from a Wilmington school “that replaced a water fountain with high levels of lead with funding” from the Covid relief bill.

In addition to the lead pipe announcement, Biden made a broader pitch to North Carolinians on his efforts to lower costs, including health care and junk fees. He also took several shots at his opponent in November, Trump.

He called out congressional Republicans for voting against the American Rescue Plan, specifically citing GOP Sen. Ted Budd of North Carolina, who, as a then-congressman, called the Covid relief package a “a liberal Trojan horse for a socialist agenda.”

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think ensuring kids can drink clean water to avoid brain damage is a socialist agenda,” Biden said to applause. “I mean – just plain decency.”

Budd, Biden added, “hasn’t been shy – he’s asked on ten separate occasions for new funding for those very laws he voted against.”

CNN’s Jen Christensen contributed to this report. 


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