EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead Service Lines

NEPA requires water utilities to evaluate potential discriminatory effects before starting work that disturbs lead pipes

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals Initiative; and Jennifer Ortega, Research Analyst

Providence Water, Rhode Island’s largest water utility, has applied for state funds to rehabilitate drinking water mains in its service area. Lead service lines (LSLs) are often attached to the mains and carry drinking water to customer’s homes. The utility has requested a “categorical exclusion” from the basic environmental assessment requirement for projects seeking money from the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF). We believe the exclusion is not appropriate and have sent a letter to the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) asking it to deny Providence Water’s request.

As part of its work, Providence Water apparently plans to replace LSLs on public property and give customers the option to accept a 10-year interest free loan to replace the LSLs that run under their private property. However, this practice forces customers to choose between paying for a full LSL replacement or risking greater lead exposure from the disturbance caused by a partial LSL replacement. It is also the basis of a civil rights complaint that Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP), South Providence Neighborhood Association, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, National Center for Healthy Housing, and EDF filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January.

EPA, which allocates grants to SRF programs has begun to investigate the civil rights issues raised by the complaint, which demonstrated that Providence Water’s practices disproportionately and adversely affect the health of low-income, Black, Latinx, and Native American residents by increasing their risk of exposure to lead in drinking water.

Under federal and state National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, SRF projects are not eligible for a categorical exclusion where an “extraordinary circumstance” is present. The discriminatory effects of Providence Water’s LSL replacement practices represent such a circumstance, and the utility should not be eligible for a categorical exclusion unless it changes its LSL replacement practices. Read More »

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Update: EPA agrees to investigate civil rights allegations against Providence Water’s LSL replacement practices

Jennifer Ortega, Research Analyst, and Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

At the start of this year, Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP), South Providence Neighborhood Association, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, National Center for Healthy Housing, and EDF submitted an administrative civil rights complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against Providence Water Supply Board (Providence Water), Rhode Island’s largest water utility. The complaint alleges that the water utility’s lead service line (LSL) replacement practices put Black, Latinx, and Native American residents at a disproportionately higher risk of lead exposure, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We are excited to share that EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) accepted “for investigation [the] administrative complaint filed against the Providence Water Supply Board.” ECRCO “determined that the complaint meets the jurisdictional requirements” needed to examine the claims. The Office made its decision only five weeks after the administrative complaint was submitted, far quicker than the timeline for most other complaints.

ECRCO will now investigate whether Providence Water’s LSL replacement practices have the effect of discriminating against certain customers on the basis of race and national origin. The Office will also examine whether Providence Water properly administers procedural safeguards to ensure the utility is complying with non-discrimination regulations, as required for recipients of EPA funding. ECRCO has 180 days to issue its preliminary findings.

To our knowledge, this decision marks the first time ECRCO has agreed to examine a water utility and the all-too-common practice of requiring customers to pay to replace LSLs on private property as a potential civil rights violation. Read More »

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In latest act of leadership, Cincinnati votes to cover the cost of replacing lead pipes for all residents

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

The Cincinnati City Council has voted unanimously to authorize Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) to pay 100% of the cost of replacing private lead service lines (LSLs) that bring drinking water to customers’ homes and other buildings. The Council’s December vote supports its larger strategy to “provide quality healthy housing for all income levels.” More broadly, the action is the latest act of leadership from the city as it works to address the environmental justice issues in its communities.

The ordinance gives GCWW the authority to help more customers pay to fully replace LSLs as the utility conducts infrastructure work on drinking water mains that connect to the lead pipes. Since 2017, the utility has subsidized up to 40% of a customer’s replacement cost through grants, and allowed customers to take a 10-year, interest-free loan.

Despite these incentives, the utility recognized that the cost of replacement was an obstacle for many customers, especially for low-income residents. About 60% of customers declined to participate, leaving them with partial LSL replacements that left lead pipes on private property in place. These partial replacements create higher short-term spikes in lead levels in drinking water and do not reliably reduce the risk of lead exposure over the long-term, as full replacement does. This is an important step for Cincinnati, as it ends LSL replacement practices that force customers to share in the costs that can lead to environmental justice and civil rights issues. Read More »

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Fixing America’s lead in water crisis must be a priority for Congress

Eric Jjemba, Health Legislative Intern, Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director, and Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

Last week, over 100 House members led by Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Daniel Kildee (D-MI), Gwen Moore (D-MI), and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking that she prioritize funding for full lead service line (LSL) replacement in “any major infrastructure legislation moving through the chamber.” Additionally, a group of 8 medical and health associations led by the American Academy of Pediatrics sent a letter of their own urging Congressional leadership “​​to fully fund this proposed public health measure with $45 billion.” These letters highlight the broad support around treating America’s lead in water crisis as one that necessitates federal action. EDF, and many others, have advocated  for $45 billion in funding to fully replace the more than 9 million remaining LSLs in the country.

For too many families in this country, turning on the faucet for water essentially means drinking through a lead straw. This hundred year old legacy problem of LSLs impacts communities across the nation, but it disproportionately harms already overburdened communities– those that experience racial, economic, and environmental disparities together. To make sure that necessary assistance reaches those that need it most, including low-income communities, communities of color, and rural communities, the federal government needs to adequately fund full LSL replacement across the country.

EDF applauds the members of Congress and key public health organizations that are continuing to push for this investment, of which we have frequently outlined the clear and tangible benefits. Among these are:

  • Protecting health, especially for children, who are likely to have their brain development impaired by lead, contributing to learning and behavioral problems and lower IQs. While children of color and those from low-income families remain at the greatest risk of lead exposure, adults are also at risk of heart disease – even at low exposure levels. 
  • Reducing disparities by advancing equity for low-income communities and communities of color (including small and rural ones) that may lack the capacity to pursue federal funds, have not developed an inventory of their LSLs, and would not otherwise have the resources to do the work.
  • Creating good paying jobs in construction and plumbing through shovel-ready work. Most communities have a good sense of where many of the LSLs are in their water systems, meaning this work can get off the ground quickly.

Read More »

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State legislation requires replacement of ¼ of the country’s lead pipes

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

With the recent passage of excellent legislation in Illinois and New Jersey, one out of every four of the nation’s lead service lines (LSLs) is on a mandatory schedule to be fully replaced, with strict limits on partial replacement in the interim. These states now join Michigan in leading the way on replacing lead pipes– made all the more important because they have some of the highest numbers of LSLs in the country.

Both the Illinois and New Jersey laws[1] were the result of extensive negotiations between stakeholders and were passed with broad bipartisan support. We applaud the bill sponsors and the advocacy organizations that made it happen.

The most significant difference between the three state policies is their deadlines for utilities to fully replace the LSLs:

  • Illinois: range of 15 years to 50 years depending on a given utility’s number of LSLs.
  • New Jersey: 10-year deadline with an option to extend to 15 years
  • Michigan: 20-year deadline.

Read More »

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Michigan embraces predictive tools to develop a lead service line inventory

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) released ground breaking guidance to help utilities in the state develop their “Complete Distribution System Materials Inventory” (CDSMI) that is due in 2025. The guidance is important because it explicitly allows utilities to use predictive tools to prepare an accurate materials inventory that is essential to effective lead service line (LSL) replacement efforts. Because the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) service line inventory in its revised Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) has many elements in common with Michigan’s inventory, we encourage EPA and other states to look closely at Michigan’s guidance as a model to help all utilities develop accurate service line inventories.

Michigan’s inventory requirement and guidance

Michigan’s version of the LCR requires utilities to fully replace all LSLs – the portion on both public and private property – at an average rate of 5% per year by 2040.[1] The key to compliance is an accurate CDSMI that must be submitted to EGLE and made public by January 1, 2025.

EGLE states that the CDSMI’s purpose “is to characterize, record, and maintain a comprehensive inventory of distribution system materials, including service line materials on both public and private property.” It supports effective asset management planning, LSL replacement efforts, and notification of those served by an LSL.

Read More »

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