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By Rachel Leven
March 21 — The public health crisis in Flint, Mich., caused by high levels of lead leaching into its residential drinking water could be a catalyst for more funding for water systems, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said March 21.
“We’re talking with the White House about how we can make that happen,” Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, told the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies at a conference in Washington, D.C.
The crisis has brought to the forefront the issue of disinvestment in water infrastructure, McCarthy said, and has already prompted improved coordination between the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding lead-specific efforts.
McCarthy's comments are part of concerted effort by the agency to prompt what she has said are difficult conversations about questions and lessons learned from Flint to ensure that a crisis like it never happens again. The impact of divesting in water infrastructure in Flint and elsewhere will be a central part of that upcoming debate.
McCarthy pointed to the lack of technology drivers in the Safe Drinking Water Act that are in other environmental laws. This means when upgrades are made to water infrastructure it doesn't necessarily account for emerging contaminants such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), she said.
McCarthy's comments bolster criticisms by Susan Hedman, former administrator for EPA Region 5, which has oversight over Michigan, that weaknesses within the law itself were an impediment to EPA actions in Flint. But when asked whether Flint should prompt a thorough reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act, McCarthy told reporters that for the EPA it’s about “making sure that we’re implementing the law aggressively” .
“Flint was a very unique circumstance,” McCarthy said following her speech to water agencies. “[We need] to look at overall investment in infrastructure because the challenge in Flint wasn’t just related to the lead. There were decades of infrastructure disinvestment there, and we need to address that as a national issue.”
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