EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead Service Lines

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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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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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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EPA Updates its 3Ts Guidance for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water

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

Earlier this month, EPA released its updated 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water Toolkit, which provides guidance for schools and child care facilities seeking to ensure children are safe from lead in water.  The new 3Ts – an update to the agency’s 2006 guidance – is now a web-based toolkit that includes modules, customizable templates, and factsheets.

Overall, the new toolkit is an improvement.  While the protocol itself is largely the same, the new toolkit is more user friendly and written for the non-technical audience, making it more likely that school and child care staff will use it.  EPA has also reframed the toolkit from “Training, Testing, and Telling” to “Training, Testing, and Taking Action” – placing more emphasis on the critical step of addressing lead sources than the previous version.  “Telling” is now integrated throughout the entire toolkit to highlight the importance of communication at every step. The agency has also developed a helpful flushing best practices factsheet, which is a topic that often causes considerable confusion.

In EDF’s June 2018 report on our pilot of 11 child care facilities, “Tackling lead in water at child care facilities,” we recommended EPA update its 2006 guidance to address four key gaps.  The agency has made progress on the two most important of those but leaves the other two unresolved. The most important change to the guidance is that the agency has removed the 20 parts per billion (ppb) action level and instead recommends action whenever there are “elevated lead levels.” While EPA does not define an elevated lead level, a deep dive into the appendix suggests that levels over 5 ppb warrant follow-up. The updated guidance also puts a greater emphasis on the identification of lead service lines (LSLs) and includes LSL replacement as a permanent control measure, though not as an explicit recommendation. Further, the agency did not update the protocol to deal with challenges posed by aerator cleaning and hot water heaters.  Below we explore each of these issues in further detail. Read More »

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