April 27, 2016 / 12:05 AM / 4 years ago

EPA calls for U.S. drinking water plan in wake of Flint crisis

Mari Copeny, 8, of Flint, Michigan, waits in line to enter a hearing room where Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will testify before a House Oversight and government Reform hearing on "Examining Federal Administration of the Safe Drinking Water Act in Flint, Michigan, Part III" on Capitol Hill in Washington March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

(Reuters) - A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official on Tuesday called for the development of a national plan to better protect the nation’s drinking water, citing the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Joel Beauvais, deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water, said in a blog post that agency management will meet with state, local government and public health officials next month. The EPA will release an action plan by the end of the year, he said.

At least $384 billion in improvements will be needed through 2030 to maintain, upgrade and replace thousands of miles of pipe and treatment plants, Beauvais said, citing EPA data from 2013. The toughest cases are often found in low-income, minority communities, he said.

Flint, a mostly black city of 100,000 people, was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 when it switched its source of water from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River to save money. The city switched back in October.

The river water was more corrosive than the Detroit system’s and caused more lead to leach from its aging pipes. Lead can be toxic and children are especially vulnerable. The crisis has prompted lawsuits by parents who say their children are showing dangerously high blood levels of lead.

Two Michigan officials and a Flint employee last week were charged with criminal offenses in the crisis.

"The crisis in Flint, Michigan has brought to the forefront the challenges many communities across the country are facing, including from lead pipes that carry their drinking water," Beauvais said in the blog. (here)

Beauvais’ announcement comes a day after lawyers for Flint residents filed a claim for $220.2 million in damages, alleging that negligence by the EPA contributed to dangerous lead levels in the city’s water supply. The agency has been criticized for failing to catch the Flint crisis early on.

Beauvais said the EPA has sent letters to governors and environmental and health commissioners in states that implement the Safe Drinking Water Act, urging them to work with the agency to improve drinking water quality.

Reporting by Justin Madden in Chicago; Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis

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