EDF Health

American Water demonstrates strong leadership on lead service line replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

In a landmark decision on July 25, 2018, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) approved American Water’s plan to fully replace the lead service lines (LSLs) in the communities served by its Indiana subsidiary over the next 10 to 24 years. This represents the replacement of about 50,000 LSLs across 27 community water systems (CWSs). As we highlighted in our blog on the company’s January 2018 proposal, the plan provides a framework that enables the cost of fully replacing LSLs, whether owned by the utility or by customers, to be shared by its 300,000 customers. As far as we know, this is the first comprehensive, voluntary LSL replacement program developed by an investor-owned utility in the country.

In its plan, American Water cited both long-term health and economic benefits that would be realized from avoiding partial replacements when rehabilitating water mains and laterals. The plan showed that having a single contractor handle the entire line reduces the overall cost by 25 t0 30%. It also avoids the likely increased risk of consumer’s exposure to lead when only part of the lead pipe is replaced.

IURC’s approval found the plan “to be reasonable and in the public interest.” Even though the customer will continue to own the service line, American Water will be allowed to add the cost to remove and replace the customer-owned portion to the value of the utility’s property. The increase would be considered an infrastructure improvement cost once the new service line is placed into service.

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Paint-lead hazard standard – A reconsideration

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

After 20 years working on lead poisoning prevention, it has become almost second nature for me to object when someone suggests that children eating paint chips is a significant route of exposure. All too often, the claim implies that the blame rests with parents who are not conscientious enough to clean or maintain their home or to properly care for their children. The implication is demeaning to the parents and distracts from the often – invisible lead dust hazards on floors that pose the greatest risk to children. So when I hear that idea, I quickly respond that dust is the key route of exposure.

However, a discussion with Hannah Chang at Earthjustice over my blog on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) July 2, 2018 proposed rule helped me realize that I was misguided with regards to defining the hazards of lead-based paints. She is the main attorney for the organizations that convinced a panel of judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to order the EPA to update its lead-based paint hazard standard.

Hannah Chang told me I missed the most compelling point when I pointed out in my previous blog that “EPA did not appear to have considered HUD’s 2007 American Healthy Housing Survey, which should provide a solid basis for identifying the relationship between lead in paint and lead in dust.”  She was right; my logic was too focused on dust as the primary source of exposure. Here is my reasoning; it may be helpful to those planning to submit comments to EPA by the August 16 deadline on the proposed rule.

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Lead service line inventories – Indiana as a good model of a voluntary survey

Tom Neltner, Lindsay McCormick, and Audrey McIntosh

This blog is part of a series focused on how states are handling the essential task of developing inventories of lead service lines (LSLs) and making them public. The first blog identified 14 states that were taking on the issue: 4 with mandatory programs and 10 with voluntary. The second blog described programs in four states that mandate an inventory. In this blog, we highlight Indiana’s 2016 voluntary survey of utilities operating community water systems (CWSs) as a model because it ask utilities to: 1) identify who owns the line and provide the legal basis for that claim; and 2) rate its confidence in its estimates on a 1 to 10 scale. 

We found no other state survey asked about LSL ownership even though it is a central question in determining who is expected to pay for replacement. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) recommended[1] in 2015 that the agency require utilities to provide states this information as part of a revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). Unfortunately, 43% of the 781 CWS did not respond to Indiana’s survey, revealing a serious limitation of voluntary surveys.

In January 2016, a month before EPA encouraged states to develop an inventory of LSLs and make it available to the public, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) sent a two-page survey to utilities that operate CWSs in the state asking about drinking water service lines. The agency posted scanned PDF copies of the individual responses online but has not yet released a summary.[2]

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Mandatory lead service line inventories – Illinois and Michigan as strong models

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager

This blog is part of a series focused on how states are handling the essential task of developing inventories of lead service lines (LSLs) and making them public. The first blog identified 14 states that were taking on the issue: four with mandatory programs and ten with voluntary.  In this blog, we explore the four mandatory programs and highlight Illinois and Michigan as strong models for other states to consider. 

Four states – California, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio – require utilities that operate community water systems (CWSs) to identify and report to the state in some form their number of lead service lines (LSLs). Illinois and Michigan both have strong approaches that could serve as models for other states and EPA to require nationally. California’s approach is seriously flawed because it ignores part of the service lines and can be misleading. Ohio requires utilities to either report they have zero LSLs or provide maps where the LSLs are likely to be found, with no requirement to provide an estimated number. We explore all of these approaches below.

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EPA undermines its own proposal for more protective dust-lead hazard standards

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

On July 2, 2018, in response to a court order, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule[1] tightening its standards for lead in dust on floors and window sills for housing and child-occupied facilities built before 1978. The agency declined to lower the standard for lead in paint – citing insufficient information – and did not consider tightening the standards for lead in soil. While the proposed rule is a tentative step forward for lead poisoning prevention, as explained below, it will create unnecessary confusion and falls far short of what the science and the law demands. Comments are due by August 16, 2018. Pursuant to an order from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA must finalize the rule by July 1, 2019.

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Developing accurate lead service line inventories and making them public: Essential tasks

Tom Neltner, Lindsay McCormick, and Audrey McIntosh

This blog is the first in a series focused on how states are handling the essential task of developing inventories of lead service lines (LSLs) and making them public.

Most communities have a general sense of how many lead service lines (LSLs) they have and what neighborhoods have them. The utilities that manage these community water systems (CWSs) base their estimates on installation and maintenance records, size and age of the service line, and professional experience supplemented with field investigations. It is the 80:20 rule in action; most utilities know enough to scope out the problem, develop a strategy, and set broad priorities.

Utilities hesitate when they are expected to provide precise numbers or say with confidence whether a specific address has or does not have a LSL. It is especially difficult for older neighborhoods where records are particularly weak and there are long histories of repairs.

It takes leadership for utilities to share what they know – and don’t know – about LSLs with their customers and the public. They need to be prepared for questions, including why they don’t know more and what they plan to do to remove the lead pipes. Sharing the information with state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brings additional scrutiny, especially if they claim they have zero LSLs.

For these reasons, EDF applauds leaders such as Boston, MA; Washington, DC; Cincinnati, OH; Columbus, OH; Evanston, IL; Providence, RI; and Pittsburgh, PA that have address-specific maps available online showing what is known and not known about each customer’s service line. We encourage you to check out their maps. In the coming months, we will share a study EDF recently conducted that evaluates consumer reactions to various approaches to online maps to help guide communities planning similar efforts.

An accurate, publicly-accessible inventory of LSLs was a key element of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council’s (NDWAC) recommendations to EPA in December 2015 for its overdue revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).[1] Two months later, EPA sent letters to each governor and state environment/public health commissioner asking, as one of five near-term actions, that they:

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