EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead Service Lines

Where are Illinois’ lead pipes? Chicago Water has nearly 60%, and small systems don’t know.

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

Chicago is the epicenter for lead service lines (LSLs) in the United States. In a report submitted to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) in April, Chicago Water reported having 392,614 LSLs – 75% of the total service lines in its water system that serves 2.7 million people living in the city and the city’s 125 suburbs. The number of LSLs is over three times higher than any other city. For additional context, this number represents 58% of the known LSLs in Illinois and 6% of the estimated 6.1 million LSLs in the country.

Chicago Water also reported an additional 120,760 service lines as unknown material that may be lead. Only 7,299 (2%) of its total service lines are made of something other than lead.

These numbers are based on the second year of mandatory reporting that IEPA makes publicly available. Earlier this year, we summarized the first year of reporting. In the second year of reporting, IEPA improved the program by allowing CWSs to separately report lines of unknown material where the utility was confident they were not LSLs – most likely because the lines were installed after the date the CWS stopped allowing use of lead. So the remaining lines of “unknown material” were more likely to be lead. In addition, all community water systems (CWSs) in the state reported in the second year.[1] Given these improvements, we looked more closely at the data.

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Taking on the lead challenge: State and community action accelerates across the country

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

In January, we reported on the tremendous progress made by states and communities in 2018 to replace lead service lines (LSLs) – the estimated 6.1 million lead pipes across the country that connect homes and other buildings to the water main under the street. At that time, our tracker stood at 95 communities and 16 states working to replace LSLs.

Half a year later, and the total number of communities (including municipalities and water utilities) EDF has learned of that are leading the way has swelled to 181.[1]

  • 7 communities located in Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin have publicly announced that they completely replaced all known LSLs.
  • 108 communities have publicly set a goal of eliminating LSLs on public and private property, totaling more than 381,000 LSLs. Nearly ¾ of these communities are served by the investor-owned utility, American Water’s, operations in Missouri (34 communities), Indiana (27 communities), and Pennsylvania (19 communities). For the remaining states, Wisconsin is leading the way with 11 communities followed by Michigan with five; Colorado and Massachusetts with two; and Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, New Jersey, and Washington each with one.
  • 66 communities are publicly taking steps to replace LSLs but have not yet set a goal of full replacement. These communities include 15 in Wisconsin; 12 in New York; 11 in Illinois; seven in Michigan and Massachusetts; five or fewer in Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia; and Washington, D.C.

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ASDWA releases useful guidance to help states develop lead service line inventories

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

As we have explained in past blogs, it is critical that states have rough estimates of how many lead service lines (LSLs) each drinking water utility in the state may have in order to develop sound policy decisions and set priorities. Congress recognized the importance of LSL inventories when it directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 to develop a national count of LSLs on public and private property in the next round of the 2020 Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey. States have a crucial supporting role in the Needs Survey since it is the basis of allocating State Revolving Loan Funds to the states.

This month, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) released a useful guidance document to help states develop LSL inventories. The guidance builds on the lessons learned from:

  • Mandatory surveys conducted by California, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin;
  • Voluntary surveys conducted by Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington; and
  • Responses to requests for updated Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) service line preliminary materials inventories conducted by Alabama, Louisiana, Kansas and Texas.

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EDF analysis: Lead service lines in Illinois communities

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Building statewide, comprehensive inventories of lead service lines (LSLs) in community water systems (CWSs) is a critical part of any effort to eliminate lead pipes. With a solid inventory, states can conduct a credible needs assessment and engage the public in supporting community efforts to replace LSLs.

In January 2017, the Illinois legislature passed a law designed to reduce children’s exposure to lead in drinking water. It included a requirement that CWSs submit annual reports to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) regarding a “water distribution system material inventory” by April of each year. EDF sees Illinois’s approach to developing an inventory as a model to be considered by other states because it:

  • Requires all CWS to report (unlike Indiana which had a well-designed one-time voluntary survey but only a 57% response);
  • Covers the entire service line (unlike California which ignored the portion of the service line on private property); and
  • Requires annual updates to track progress, especially in reducing the number of service lines with unknown materials (unlike Michigan which requires updates only every five-years).

In August 2018, IEPA released a summary of the first year submissions and has updated it several times. IEPA indicated that 95% of CWSs submitted reports and provided totals of each type of piping material reported with 414,895 LSLs and 1,504,748 of unknown material. At the time, the agency did not provide information on what each CWS reported.

Making totals public is important but does little to engage the public in understanding what the information means for their community. But earlier this week, IEPA published an online tool, which allows residents to search for their water system and download the data for individual reports of the types of materials currently reported by their water system.  EDF also received the information pursuant to a Freedom of Information request. Click here to see the data for all the CWSs in a spreadsheet. We also used an EPA database to identify the 84 CWSs that did not comply with the law.

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Laws in states with the most lead service lines support using rates to fund replacement on private property: New analysis

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

We found no explicit barriers to using rate funds to replace the lines on private property in the 13 we focused on. These states have an estimated 4.2 million LSLs, more than two-thirds of the nation’s total

Lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes that connect a building’s plumbing to the water main under the street – are a significant source of lead in drinking water for those homes that have them. In light of the well-documented benefits to society from reducing children’s exposure to lead, there is a consensus that we need to replace the estimated six million LSLs remaining in the country. It will take time, but it needs to be done.

One challenge to this goal is how to fund replacement of the portion of the service line on private property. Because LSLs extend from under the street to a building, typically about half of the line is on public property and half is on private property. The perception among utilities has been that they do not have the legal authority to use rates paid by customers to cover the cost of replacing the portion on private property because it provides a benefit only to that property owner. This view was reinforced when the Wisconsin Public Service Commission blocked Madison from doing it, forcing the city to use other funds to complete the work. That decision from the early 2000s came before the risks of even low-level exposure to lead were well understood.

Many utilities have therefore taken to replacing only the portion of the LSL on public property when the property owner is unwilling or unable to pay to replace the portion on private property. The practice, often called “partial replacement,” is not only inefficient but can actually exacerbate residents’ exposure to lead. As evidence of the risks of even low-level exposure to lead—and of the society-wide benefits of reducing lead exposure—have mounted and the tragedy in Flint, Michigan made clear the need to replace LSLs, states like Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Wisconsin, have adopted new laws or policies that have allowed funds from rates, with some limitations, to be used to replace the side on private property. Michigan has gone further and adopted rules mandating the practice, although some utilities have challenged the rule in court.

Given the funding challenge and the trends in the states, EDF partnered with the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School to review the state laws and policies in the 13 states with the most LSLs. Clinic Deputy Director Shaun Goho and law student Marcello Saenz conducted a state-by-state review of the laws, court decisions, and policies. The authors:

Found no explicit barriers to using rate funds to replace the lines on private property. These states have an estimated 4.2 million LSLs, more than two-thirds of the nation’s total. In these states, publicly-owned utilities can act pursuant to existing state legislation by determining that the practice serves a public purpose—protecting public health. Investor-owned utilities can do the same, but typically need approval of the state’s utility commission. While we have not reviewed the remaining states, we anticipate that the state laws and policies are similar to the ones we evaluated.

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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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