Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Congress needs to deliver on clean water for W.Va.

by Delegate Evan Hansen

From lead pipes to dirty drinking water, West Virginians have been forced to put up with aging, unreliable water infrastructure for decades. Now, our communities are paying the price for years of inaction. Recent reports have shown several children in Clarksburg have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies because of lead pipes still in use. Clarksburg Water Board President Paul Howe recently said the board has repeatedly asked for help from state and federal agencies to address the crisis, but they haven’t received any assistance.

Right now, Congress is considering a historic, bipartisan infrastructure plan, spearheaded in part by Sen. Joe Manchin, that would invest at least $55 billion to ensure access to clean drinking water. Such an investment would infuse much-needed funds into our state to deal with the Clarksburg crisis and others — while also building sustainable clean water infrastructure for generations to come.

As a scientist, I’ve worked and fought for clean water for West Virginians my entire career — including working to address the Freedom Industries chemical leak that contaminated the water supply for approximately 300,000 West Virginians before I was elected to public office. As a legislator, I’ve taken the fight for clean drinking water to the House of Delegates.

Unsafe drinking water is unfortunately common in West Virginia and can have lifelong effects on individuals’ health. The National Resource Defense Council recently found West Virginia has 20,000 lead pipes still in use. Low-income and rural communities are disproportionately impacted by unsafe drinking water because they are far more likely to rely on small, inadequate water systems. In commenting on the Clarksburg water crisis, State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad noted that lead poisoning can have significant impacts on children’s development — including “developmental delays, IQ problems and mood disorders.” These issues aren’t going away on their own. In fact, drinking water violations in West Virginia have increased 113% in the past year. We must act now.

We need our representatives in Congress to fight for the safety of our water by supporting the bipartisan infrastructure plan. It’s the only way to make sure that West Virginia can eliminate lead service lines and pipes and provide clean water.

Here in West Virginia, aging and unsafe water infrastructure is risking the health and safety of our children, neighbors and loved ones. I urge Sens. Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito to deliver the infrastructure investments West Virginia needs to ensure clean drinking water for all its residents.

Delegate Evan Hansen (D-Monongalia) is an environmental scientist and represents District 51 in the West Virginia House of Delegates.