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Jackson: New federal water infrastructure investments in Indiana are a start but more needs to be done

IBLC, News & Media

INDIANAPOLIS - State Rep. Carolyn B. Jackson (D-Hammond) today released the column below to newspapers and news outlets in her legislative district (Indiana House District 1):

 

The EPA just announced that $127 million is coming to Indiana for water infrastructure investments. What follows is an op-ed written by State Rep. Carolyn Jackson (D-Hammond) discussing the need for further clean water investments in the state:

When my sons were young, I needed to focus on raising them — doing normal mom things like teaching them their ABCs, playing with them and working on their social skills.  Not worrying about whether their child care or preschool buildings had lead-contaminated water coming out of the tap. 

For too many kids in Hammond, the rest of House District 1 and Indiana, lead contamination is a looming threat to their neurological development, causing learning and behavioral problems. This risk is heightened for Black and brown children, who live in places more likely to have outdated water pipes. 

Thanks to the new federal bipartisan infrastructure law championed and passed by our congressional Democrats, U.S. Reps. Andre Carson and Frank Mrvan, $127 million in federal funds will flow to Indiana exclusively for water infrastructure projects. This includes removing lead pipes; addressing PFAS, a chemical that stays in our bodies permanently and has shown up in much of Indiana’s water supply; and updating wastewater infrastructure. 

This is a sorely needed investment in our communities, our children and our futures. But it’s not enough. As pointed out by the Indianapolis Star, the $127 million is less than 1% of a recent legislative task force-recommended $15 billion in water infrastructure improvements. Still, it’s a big investment, and like EPA Administrator Michael Regan said, states should prioritize low-income people and communities of color in disbursing these funds as these folks have disproportionately faced water quality and stormwater management issues for decades. 

The 2022 legislative session starts in less than a month. I plan to file legislation that will help prevent young children from being exposed to dangerous lead levels. In 2020, I authored a bill requiring all schools to test their water for lead every two years from 2023 onward and make changes if lead levels are higher than 15 parts per billion. That bill became law. It’s time to include preschool and child care centers in the mandatory testing so that all Hoosier kids, no matter their race or zip code, are safe from the outsized and tragic impact on their education and lives of childhood lead poisoning. 

The safest level of lead exposure is no exposure, but simply knowing where kids are being exposed is the first step in fixing the problem. Additionally, requiring this testing will allow parents to make informed choices about where to safely send their children for large amounts of their waking hours. 

A cup of water should not have to be an object of suspicion for any Hoosier. Kids should feel safe going to daycare or preschool, just as parents should be able to trust that dropping their kids off at school will not severely harm their health. It is the moral responsibility of the Indiana General Assembly to deliver on safe water for our collective future. 

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