EDF Health

Selected tag(s): lead service line inventory

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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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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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.  Updated 11/3/18 to reflect updated estimates from Illinois.

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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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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