House passes bill requiring EPA actions on lead-laced water

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday easily passed a bill requiring federal environmental regulators to act faster when lead contamination is found in drinking water.

The bill passed 416-2. It was crafted by Michigan Representatives Dan Kildee, a Democrat, and Fred Upton, a Republican, in the wake of Flint’s drinking water crisis.

The measure requires the Environmental Protection Agency to notify the public when concentrations of lead in drinking water rise above mandated levels and to create a plan to improve communication between the agency, utilities, states, and consumers.

In 2014, under a state-appointed emergency manager, Flint, a city of 100,000, switched water supplies to the Flint River, from Detroit’s system as part of a plan to save money in the poverty-stricken city.

The more corrosive river water leached lead from aging pipes. Thousands of children are believed to have ingested dangerous levels of lead, a toxin that can harm brains and cause other health problems.

The bill “wouldn’t have prevented Flint, but it would have caught it far sooner,” Kildee, who is from Flint, said after the vote. The measure must be passed by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama before becoming law.

Other measures in Congress to provide Flint with millions of dollars in aid to deal with the crisis face an uncertain future. Kildee has also introduced a bill to provide about $700 million in federal aid, with a match in funding from Michigan. That and other measures languished as Democrats and Republicans struggled to agree on where the funds would come from.

The Department of Agriculture said on Thursday it would temporarily allow Michigan to use funds from its Women, Infants and Children program for low income citizens to conduct lead testing. The department estimated some 3,800 people could get tested in this way.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Sandra Maler