EDF Health

New study: Using interactive online tools to publicize lead service line locations and promote replacement

By Sofia Hiltner, Rainer Romero, Lindsay McCormick and Tom Neltner

EDF study evaluates interactive online tools in three Ohio cities that help users know which addresses have a lead service line.

In 2016, EPA called upon states to work with drinking water utilities to make publicly available the location of lead service lines (LSLs, the lead pipes that connect the main under the street to buildings) via maps or other mechanisms. Ohio led the way with legislation requiring more than 1,800 utilities to submit static PDF maps that showed where LSLs were likely to be present and then posting the maps online. Three cities in the state took the effort a step further to communicate the information to their customers by posting online tools. In 2016, Cincinnati posted an interactive map of LSLs modeled after one posted by Washington, DC earlier that year. The next year, Columbus posted an interactive map and Cleveland posted a search engine enabling anyone to check the service line material at an address.

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City of Washington, DC requires lead pipe disclosure and tackles past partial LSL replacements

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Washington, DC estimates there are 48,000 lead service lines (LSLs) on private property, 46 percent of the total number of service lines identified by the District. While the District has not yet set a goal of eliminating LSLs, it has taken positive steps to assist residents in replacing LSLs. It has prioritized avoiding partial LSL replacements, which are likely to increase residents’ exposure to lead, especially in the months following the disturbance.

On January 16, 2019, the District passed a new law that takes additional positive steps. First, it requires property owners to disclose the presence of an LSL to potential homebuyers and renters. The city joins Cincinnati, OH and Philadelphia, PA in requiring disclosure to renters and New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania in requiring disclosure to homebuyers.

Second, it redresses past partial LSL replacements by providing financial support to homeowners who did not replace the portion on private property when they were expected to shoulder the entire burden. This is the first city we have seen take this approach. The fiscal impact statement for the law also provides insight into the cost of LSL replacement; the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), the city’s utility, estimates the average cost to replace the portion on private property is $2,000 per line. The total cost of the law over four years if fully funded is $21 million.

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EDF considers potential health equity impacts of partial lead service line replacement

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

“LSL replacement initiatives should address barriers to participation so that consumers served by LSLs can benefit equitably, regardless of income, race or ethnicity.”

– A founding principle of the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative

States and communities across the country are taking important steps to accelerate replacement of lead service lines (LSLs) – lead pipes connecting the water main under the street to homes and other buildings. As part of this progress, many programs have strictly limited the standard practice of partial LSL replacement – replacing only the portion of the LSL on public property, which commonly arises when rehabilitating the main and reconnecting the existing line. Partial replacement is likely to increase, at least temporarily, lead levels in drinking water in homes and may not reduce lead exposure in the long run.

The default approach for most water utilities rehabilitating their main has been to simply alert property owners to the risk of partial replacement and advise them to hire a contractor to voluntarily replace the remaining portion of the LSL on their property.

Other utilities have rejected this approach and gone further to protect residents. For example, Washington, DC offers to coordinate private side and public side replacement to reduce costs and make participation easier but still expects the property owner to pay for the private side. Others, such as Cincinnati, OH, have required full LSL replacement, providing a significant subsidy to the homeowner and allowing the cost to be spread over ten years through a property tax assessment. Indiana American Water and Philadelphia, PA go even further and pay for the cost of full LSL replacement out of ratepayer or capital improvement funds. States are acting too, with Michigan requiring utilities to pay the cost of replacement on private property and Wisconsin requiring cost sharing. For more examples, see our webpages recognizing communities and states that are leading the way.

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From villages to states, significant progress on lead service line replacement in 2018

Sam Lovell, Project Specialist and Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

We recently finished a round of updates to our webpages recognizing states and communities leading the way in efforts to accelerate lead service line (LSL) replacement across the country. As we start the New Year, we wanted to summarize the good news from 2018 and highlight some opportunities for more success.

Ninety-five communities are leading the way on LSL replacement programs:[1]

  • 6 communities have publicly announced that they have completely replaced all known LSLs.
  • 53 communities have publicly set a goal of eliminating LSLs on public and private property, totaling more than 300,000 LSLs. Ten of the communities are in Wisconsin; Indiana has one investor-owned utility, American Water, which operates 27 separate community water systems; Michigan has four communities; Colorado and Ohio have two; and Arkansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington have one.
  • 36 communities are publicly taking steps to replace LSLs but have not yet set a goal of full replacement. One third of these communities are from Wisconsin; seven from Illinois; and five or fewer from New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Iowa, and Kentucky.

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California Water Board makes misleading claim that only four water systems have lead lines

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

[Update 12/14/18: The California Water Boards added a webpage providing more background for customers on the inventory requirement, including the clarification that “user service line” does not include the service line on private property. This clarification was also added to the Status Map webpage.]

The California Water Board posted the results of its statewide inventory of lead service lines (LSLs) in community water systems (CWSs) yesterday. They also became the first in the nation to post the results in an interactive online map. We are pleased to see the state take this important step, but are disappointed that the press release it sent out to announce the map’s launch undermines its efforts with misleading and confusing statements.

The central problem is that the press release fails to be clear that the inventory does not cover the portion of the service line between the meter and the home or building.  As a result, a CWS that removed all of the lead pipes between the main under the street and the meter but left them on private property was listed as having no LSLs. A customer would justifiably – but mistakenly – assume that LSLs were not an issue in their community.

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Mapping state-level lead service line information: Indiana as a model

Lindsay McCormick, is a Project Manager. Tom Neltner, J.D., is the Chemicals Policy Director.

Developing inventories to document and share what water utilities know – and do not know – about lead service lines (LSLs) with the public is a difficult, but critical, step in creating an effective LSL replacement program.

States can play an important role in collecting estimates of the number of known and potential LSLs for each utility and shaping how that information is communicated to the public. 14 states have surveyed utilities operating community water systems in their state to acquire such information.

States have made this information publicly available through different methods. Some have posted individual utility reports, while others have provided a report summarizing the findings. In analyzing the approaches, we found that no state currently makes the results available in a format that allows the public to easily see the information from multiple utilities.

But in today’s world, people typically expect data to be presented in a visually friendly and digestible format. So as a model, we decided to create a state-level map of LSL information.

Of the 14 states, we found that Indiana has one of the most robust surveys, asking detailed questions about portions of the service line containing lead, information sources checked, and service line ownership on public versus private property.  Further, it has a good response rate for a voluntary survey. While only 57% of systems responded, these systems account for 92% of the LSLs in the state – as most non-respondents were primarily smaller community water systems.

EDF acquired a spreadsheet from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and combined this information with data from EPA’s State Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) to develop a map of LSLs in Indiana as a model.

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