EDF Health

In major step, Chicago announces lead pipe replacement plan – but could it widen the equity gap?

Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager

In September, Chicago took an important – albeit modest – step towards tackling its colossal number of lead service lines (LSLs) – the lead pipes providing drinking water from the main under the street to homes.

With an estimated 389,900 LSLs, Chicago has more than two times as many LSLs as any other city in the country. In fact, Chicago city code mandated their installation until 1986, when Congress banned it.  Since then, the city has largely turned a blind eye to the problem of existing lead pipes – that is, until now.

On September 10th, Mayor Lightfoot announced the city’s new Lead Service Line Replacement Program, acknowledging the problem and taking initial steps towards fully replacing its lead pipes.  While the starting investment is $19 million, Lightfoot estimates the full cost of the program, including restoration and bringing underground sewerage and water infrastructure up to code, at $8.5 billion. The city currently does not yet have the funds – or a plan – to fully cover the cost. Chicago’s move comes just weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency is slated to release its final revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule.  Read More »

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ASDWA provides new recommendations to states and utilities for lead service line inventories

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) released a new white paper to help states and utilities develop more useful inventories of lead service lines (LSLs). The paper builds on guidance the organization issued in August 2019. ASDWA partnered with BlueConduit to leverage that firm’s experience developing a statistical model for Flint, Michigan that accurately predicted which service lines were made of lead, galvanized steel, plastic or copper.

The guidance is timely as EPA prepares to finalize its Lead and Copper Rule revisions. We anticipate those revisions will require utilities to develop – and make public – inventories that identify the location of each service line made of lead or when the material is unknown and may be lead. Utilities would also be required to notify customers annually if they have a lead or unknown service line. Customers who buy a home and open a new water account would also be notified in the first bill.

The ASDWA/BlueConduit white paper encourages utilities to use five principles to best characterize the uncertainty in their inventories:

  1. Ensuring clean data management and organization;
  2. Not accepting all historical records as truth;
  3. Conducting a representative randomized sample of unverified service lines;
  4. Being transparent in public outreach and reproducibility; and
  5. Demonstrating accuracy on “hold-out sample.”

Read More »

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Revised national standard tightens lead leaching limits for new drinking water fixtures

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

In September 2020, the joint committee posted an announcement on its revised NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard.

Effective today, the national consensus standard for plumbing devices, known as NSF/ANSI/CAN 61, was revised to require, by January 1, 2024, that manufacturers of faucets and fountains that dispense drinking water meet limits five times more protective for lead leaching than the current standard. Manufacturers have the option to have their products tested and certified to the revised standard beginning in the fall, after it is published. All states require plumbing devices comply NSF/ANSI/CAN 61.

Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI), the trade association for the industry, tells us that its members are already gearing up to get their products certified, but that it will take time to complete the third-party review process and meet the expected demand. Consumers, retailers, and institutional buyers should begin requesting products that meet the new standard – which can be identified by the new “NSF/ANSI/CAN 61: Q ≤ 1”[1] text on the consumer-facing product label – in 2021 as the certification process ramps up.

A driving force for this change was legislation introduced by California Assembly Member Chris Holden, cosponsored by EDF and Environmental Working Group, with productive and collaborative engagement from PMI and NSF International.[2] On June 8, the Assembly unanimously passed AB 2060. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. The current version of the bill would require that all devices made or sold in California that are intended to convey or dispense drinking water meet the new NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard on a faster timeline – by January 1, 2021. PMI has requested an effective date of January 1, 2024 for the California requirement to provide manufacturers, third party certifiers, distributors, and retailers with adequate time to get products certified and in stock in the state. Stakeholders are considering the request but are concerned that child care facilities and schools will need the devices sooner. Because of the legislation, we expect that manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers will prioritize the California market.

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Michigan utilities report much lower percentages of service lines of lead or unknown material than Wisconsin or Illinois

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

Note to readers: As we all grapple with the grave global health challenge from COVID-19, we want to acknowledge the essential service that the public health professionals at water utilities provide in delivering safe water not only for drinking but for washing our hands and our surroundings. In the meantime, we are continuing to work towards improved health and environmental protections – including reducing lead in drinking water. We’ll plan to keep sharing developments regarding lead in drinking water that may be useful to you. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.

Lead service line (LSL) inventories provide useful insights into the location and number of LSLs in states and the funding needed to fully replace these lines. In previous blogs, we examined mandatory reporting by utilities of service line material in Illinois and Wisconsin.[1] Here, we examined a March 2020 preliminary report by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) summarizing data submitted by 1,029 utilities. Unlike the annual reporting in Illinois and Wisconsin, Michigan required utilities to submit a preliminary inventory by January 1, 2020 and requires a complete inventory before 2025. While the preliminary report allows lines to be designated as unknown, the material must be determined by 2025. This is a two-step process, rather than the annual report approach that California has taken.

Michigan reports less than 100,000 LSLs and 276,000 lines of unknown material that may be lead

The state’s preliminary report is based on 1,029 utilities[2] (74% of the state’s 1,386 total) with 2.40 million service lines (90% of the 2.66 million total).[3] This reporting rate is lower than what Illinois experienced at a similar stage in the first year of mandatory reporting.

For the 1,029 utilities that reported, utilities reported 99,000 (4% of total) lead, 21,000 (0.9%) galvanized steel,[4] 177,000 (7%) of unknown material but likely to be lead, and 276,000 (12%) as unknown with no information. If all of the four categories are actually lead (which is unlikely), there would be 573,000 (23%) LSLs in Michigan.

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The next infrastructure stimulus bill is the right place for lead pipe replacement funding – to create jobs, save money and provide safer water for all

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director.

Note to readers: As we all grapple with the grave global health challenge from COVID-19, we want to acknowledge the essential service that the public health professionals at water utilities provide in delivering safe water not only for drinking but for washing our hands and our surroundings.

During the past few weeks, Congress has taken extraordinary measures to provide much-needed emergency relief to people as we collectively struggle with the COVID-19 crises. Over the coming months, lawmakers have said they will turn their attention to providing funding to stimulate the economy with a focus on water infrastructure as a priority. Lead pipe replacement should be an essential part of that effort.

To guide the Congressional effort, EDF and hundreds of others signed onto U.S. Water Alliance’s COVID-19 Relief and Recovery: Guiding Principles to Secure Our Water Future. The four principles are:

  1. Ensure water is reliable and affordable to all
  2. Strengthen water utilities of all sizes
  3. Close the water access gap
  4. Fuel economic recovery by investing in water systems

In line with of our support for these principles, EDF is advocating that Congress provide $45 billion for water utilities to fully replace lead service lines (LSL) – the lead pipes connecting a home to the water main under the street. Today, there are more than nine million homes still serviced by LSLs in the country, exposing millions of children and adults to the myriad of harms associated with lead. For children, these harms include undermining brain development. In adults, lead has been shown to cause heart disease, cancer, and impact the neurological, reproductive, and immune systems. While there is broad consensus that LSLs must be fully removed to protect public health, funding challenges have stymied progress.

Read More »

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Latest Wisconsin data on water service lines provides important insights, reveals over 150,000 lead pipes

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

Note to readers: As we all grapple with the grave global health challenge from COVID-19, we want to acknowledge the essential service that the public health professionals at water utilities provide in delivering safe water not only for drinking but for washing our hands and our surroundings. In the meantime, we are continuing to work towards improved health and environmental protections – including reducing lead in drinking water. We’ll plan to keep sharing developments regarding lead in drinking water that may be useful to you. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.

With the comment period now closed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), agency staff are busy reviewing the 687 distinct comments submitted to the docket with a goal of finalizing the rule by the end of the year. To help water professionals plan ahead, the cover article in the March edition of Journal AWWA walks readers through the proposal and its implications. It ends with six suggestions to water systems that include developing a service line material inventory and identifying funding strategies to accelerate full lead service line (LSL) replacement.

With this suggestion in mind, we are continuing our work evaluating state efforts to develop LSL inventories by taking a closer look at reporting by Wisconsin municipal and private water utilities[1] to the state Public Service Commission (PSC) for calendar year 2018.[2] Of the other states with mandatory inventory reporting, we have previously covered Illinois in detail and will evaluate Michigan’s newly released reports soon. The only other state with mandatory reporting is California, but it has limited value because it only covers the portion of the service line owned by the utility and excludes the portion on private property.

Read More »

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