EPA award for replacing lead pipes is an ‘emotional’ win for town

EPA award for replacing lead pipes is an ‘emotional’ win for town

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Winning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Children’s Health Award on Sept. 12 was an emotional moment, said Mayor Charles Lombardi.

“It was big for the town, really big,” he said, adding that he was extra choked up after hearing about other people and organizations winning awards for making a difference in New England’s water quality.

Several organizations and individuals in Rhode Island were recognized at the 2018 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England regional office.

Those environmental leaders were among 28 recipients across New England honored for their work to protect New England’s environment.

Under the leadership of Lombardi, said EPA officials, the town has leveraged federal funding through the state Office of Housing and Community Development. The funds, which municipalities typically invest in low income neighborhoods, were used in North Providence creatively to get $270,000 to replace privately owned lead service lines. The town is replacing the publicly owned lead service line for every private line replaced.

“North Providence knocked on doors to get residents to participate,” states a release. This led to replacing about 40 lead service lines. Then the town held public forums, and it now plans to replace about 100 lines in 2018.

“Under Lombardi’s vision, a creative solution was found and important public health changes made,” stated officials. “Challenged by daunting numbers of lead pipes, North Providence is an inspiration to other communities wanting to eliminate lead pipes and protect their children.”

Water utilities have reduced lead exposure by installing corrosion control treatments, according to EPA representatives. In recent years, public health and regulatory agencies have focused on replacing lead service lines to reduce lead exposure in drinking water which, in children, can result in neurological and developmental damage. This means addressing complex issues that require community involvement and significant cost. Most lead service lines are owned partially by the water utility and partially by property owners.

North Providence, with most families in the low or moderate income brackets, has more than 500 lead service lines.

Other Rhode Island winners were:

• Wenley Ferguson of Save The Bay and Terrance Gray of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, who were recognized with individual awards for contributions to the health and environment.

• And the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover Team, as well as the organizations involved in the Rhode Island Pawcatuck River Restoration Project, who were recognized for their contributions.

Lombardi was given one of three Children’s Health Awards in the region.

“New England is rich with individuals, businesses, and organizations that exhibit their strong commitment to local communities and to a clean and healthful environment. EPA is very proud to recognize these meaningful accomplishments,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator Alexandra Dunn.