EDF Health

In latest act of leadership, Cincinnati votes to cover the cost of replacing lead pipes for all residents

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

The Cincinnati City Council has voted unanimously to authorize Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) to pay 100% of the cost of replacing private lead service lines (LSLs) that bring drinking water to customers’ homes and other buildings. The Council’s December vote supports its larger strategy to “provide quality healthy housing for all income levels.” More broadly, the action is the latest act of leadership from the city as it works to address the environmental justice issues in its communities.

The ordinance gives GCWW the authority to help more customers pay to fully replace LSLs as the utility conducts infrastructure work on drinking water mains that connect to the lead pipes. Since 2017, the utility has subsidized up to 40% of a customer’s replacement cost through grants, and allowed customers to take a 10-year, interest-free loan.

Despite these incentives, the utility recognized that the cost of replacement was an obstacle for many customers, especially for low-income residents. About 60% of customers declined to participate, leaving them with partial LSL replacements that left lead pipes on private property in place. These partial replacements create higher short-term spikes in lead levels in drinking water and do not reliably reduce the risk of lead exposure over the long-term, as full replacement does. This is an important step for Cincinnati, as it ends LSL replacement practices that force customers to share in the costs that can lead to environmental justice and civil rights issues. Read More »

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Flint area residents raise the bar on raising environmental justice concerns

Ugbaad Ali, Community Environmental Health Tom Graff Fellow

We all deserve to live in a healthy and vibrant community, yet many residents of Flint, Michigan, are overburdened by a lifetime of toxic exposures and environmental injustice. Recently, a coalition of environmental justice groups and community organizers in Flint used their combined power to organize against the siting of a new hot mix asphalt facility.

The Stop Ajax Asphalt Coalition was formed to protect neighboring communities from further environmental harm. The Coalition, which includes residents from Flint and Genesee Township, St. Francis Prayer Center, C.A.U.T.I.O.N, Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, Flint Rising, Greater Holy Temple Church, Michigan United, R. L. Jones Community Outreach Center Campus, and Mi JustUs, submitted extensive comments and generated hundreds of public comments to contest the state’s permitting of a hot mixed asphalt facility by Ajax Materials Corp. near homes, schools, and parks.

Historically air permit decisions have been made in isolation, ignoring the cumulative impact from surrounding exposure sources. After hearing from the Coalition, the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which serves Michigan and five other states – weighed in with a letter that recommended Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) “conduct a cumulative analysis of the projected emissions from all emission units at the proposed facility, fugitive emissions from the proposed facility, and emissions from nearby industrial facilities, to provide a more complete assessment of the ambient air impacts of the proposed facility on this community.” It concluded that “because of the environmental conditions already facing this community, and the potential for disproportionate impacts, the siting of this facility may raise civil rights concerns.”

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) regional office also  raised serious civil rights concerns in a letter to EGLE, highlighting that the proposed location is near two HUD-assisted communities housing low-income families of color – and expressing concern that EGLE failed to engage HUD on a decision that could impact HUD-assisted residents.

“This isn’t a defeat for the citizens of Flint. We’re just getting started.” – Anthony Paciorek, Michigan United (ABC News)

Despite the public comments and federal agency letters, EGLE approved the air permit, but with tightened requirements. The Coalition remains concerned about the siting of the facility and is committed to challenging the state to require additional measures to protect their community. Read More »

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