EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead Service Line

EDF asks EPA to strengthen key lead service line definition, inventory, and notification provisions in its proposed revision to the LCR

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

See all blogs in our LCR series.

Yesterday, EDF submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on their proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), focusing on changes that EPA should to make to the:

  • Definition of a lead service line (LSL);
  • Requirements for water systems to develop LSL inventories; and
  • Notification of individual consumers who drink water that passes through an LSL.

We highlighted strengths and weaknesses of the LCR in a blog earlier this week, and we encourage states and communities to consider adopting the positive provisions now in addition to the changes we ask EPA to adopt in these comments. Below is a summary of our comments on these three issues. We plan to address other issues on the proposed revisions to the LCR in later comments.

Lead Service Line Definition

EPA’s proposed change to the current definition of an LSL at 40 CFR § 141.2 is flawed because it continues to exempt goosenecks, pigtails, or other connectors made of lead. These connectors are a major source of lead in drinking water not just because they are made of lead, but because they can release significant amounts of lead particulate into water as they flex with temperature, are scoured by turbulent water flow, and as other conditions change.

The exemption of these connectors from the definition of an LSL would render a water system’s LSL inventory and periodic notices to customers misleading because service lines described as “non-lead” may actually have some lead pipe in them. This will give residents a false sense of security. We recommend that the agency modify the proposed definition by deleting the exemption and explicitly stating that goosenecks, pigtails and connectors made of lead are LSLs.

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Denver Water proposes innovative plan to remove an estimated 75,000 lead service lines in 15 years

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

Update (12/18/19): EPA approved Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program on December 16, 2019. The utility will start implementing the program in 2020. 

Yesterday, Denver Water’s board approved its proposed “Lead Reduction Program Plan” to fully replace the estimated 75,000 lead service lines (LSLs) in their system within 15 years.  The plan is an innovative solution that will remove the primary source of lead within Denver Water’s system, while avoiding the use of orthophosphate that can further exacerbate nutrient pollution problems in rivers, streams and oceans, an issue EDF’s Ecosystems team is working hard to solve.

As proposed, Denver Water would fund full replacement of LSLs through water rates, bonds and sales of new connections to the system, hydropower production and other sources rather than have individual property owners contribute.  In addition, the utility’s proposal to provide filters to residents until their LSLs are replaced represents a model other communities should consider based on the effectiveness of their ongoing pilot.  Before implementing the plan, Denver Water will need to receive approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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New study: Homebuyers and renters take action when told they may have a lead service line

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

The Cornell/EDF study confirmed that potential buyers or renters report being much more willing to take action to replace LSLs when told they have one regardless of disclosure style. However, water testing information that shows levels below EPA’s lead action level may underestimate risk and undermine action on LSLs.

Today, EDF and collaborators at Cornell published a new study that provides insight into how disclosure policies can impact potential home-buyer and renter behavior. This effort builds on a report EDF published in 2017 grading state housing disclosure policies according to their ability to help homebuyers make informed decisions about lead service lines (LSLs) before they sign a sales contract. LSLs are pipes that connect homes to the water mains under the street and are a major source of lead in drinking water. Four states — Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania — and Washington, DC scored an A-. Twenty-one states scored a D or F. The remaining 25 states scored a B or C.

Our analysis was based on a presumption that if potential homeowners are told that a home has an LSL, many would negotiate with the property owner for its removal, whether by having the seller replace it or building the cost into the mortgage to fund the buyer’s replacement. This was a reasonable presumption that underlies why sellers are required to disclose property defects and environmental hazards in many states.

However, we were interested in testing that presumption and exploring how potential homebuyers and renters might respond differently based on how the information is disclosed by a property owner or home inspector. Our objective was to evaluate disclosure styles to assess if the different styles influenced respondents’ perceived risk of the LSL in a home and willingness to act. To conduct the survey, we partnered with Jeff Niederdeppe and Hang Lu of Cornell University’s Department of Communications who recruited 2,205 participants online and gave them one of three scenarios to consider and advised them it would cost $1,000-5,000 to replace the LSL. See Figure 1 below.

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$10 in benefits for every $1 invested – Minnesota estimates benefits of lead service line replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released a report estimating that investing $4 billion in virtually eliminating lead in drinking water over 20 years would provide societal benefits of more than $8 billion. The state agency only counted the societal benefits from avoiding the loss of IQ points due to children’s exposure to lead.

Replacing lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes that connect a building’s plumbing to the water main under the street – yielded the greatest benefit with an investment of $0.228 to $0.365 billion yielding $2.118 to $4.235 billion in benefits. Replacing lead fixtures and solder had a lower, but still significant, return on the investment.

Based on this analysis, MDH recommended as high priority that the state conduct an inventory of LSLs and that LSLs be removed “at a measured pace” of 20 years. It also recommended undertaking as a medium priority an awareness campaign focused on the danger of lead in drinking water to formula-fed infants younger than nine months old and as a low priority a general public information campaign to prompt homeowners and renters to take action if they have an LSL.

The agency, which includes both the state’s drinking water protection program and its lead poisoning prevention program, prepared the report in response to a provision in a state appropriations law passed in 2017. The report is important because it is the first state assessment we know of, and it reports an impressive return on the investment of more than $10 for every $1 invested in LSL replacement. For these reasons, we took a close look at the analysis and the underlying assumptions.

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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 service lines 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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