EDF Health

Selected tag(s): LSL

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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Civil rights complaint draws attention to the discriminatory impacts of common lead pipe replacement practice

Jennifer Ortega, Research Analyst, Environmental Health

This past Wednesday, Rhode Island’s Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP) led a coalition of groups in submitting a civil rights complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the Providence Water Supply Board (Providence Water), pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The administrative complaint highlights the discriminatory effects that can result when utilities require customers to share the cost of replacing the lead pipes that feed into their homes. The complaint was submitted as part of CLAP’s larger Lead-Free Water RI campaign, which calls “for an equitable, statewide plan for full, free lead pipe replacements for all Rhode Islanders.”

In the complaint, CLAP, South Providence Neighborhood Association, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, National Center for Healthy Housing, and EDF allege that the water utility’s process of replacing lead service lines (LSLs) — the lead pipes that run from the water main to the water meter in homes — has a disparate impact on Black, Latinx, and Native American residents in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and EPA’s implementing regulations. Read More »

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Developing accurate lead service line inventories and making them public: Essential tasks

Tom Neltner, Lindsay McCormick, and Audrey McIntosh

This blog is the first in a series focused on how states are handling the essential task of developing inventories of lead service lines (LSLs) and making them public.

Most communities have a general sense of how many lead service lines (LSLs) they have and what neighborhoods have them. The utilities that manage these community water systems (CWSs) base their estimates on installation and maintenance records, size and age of the service line, and professional experience supplemented with field investigations. It is the 80:20 rule in action; most utilities know enough to scope out the problem, develop a strategy, and set broad priorities.

Utilities hesitate when they are expected to provide precise numbers or say with confidence whether a specific address has or does not have a LSL. It is especially difficult for older neighborhoods where records are particularly weak and there are long histories of repairs.

It takes leadership for utilities to share what they know – and don’t know – about LSLs with their customers and the public. They need to be prepared for questions, including why they don’t know more and what they plan to do to remove the lead pipes. Sharing the information with state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brings additional scrutiny, especially if they claim they have zero LSLs.

For these reasons, EDF applauds leaders such as Boston, MA; Washington, DC; Cincinnati, OH; Columbus, OH; Evanston, IL; Providence, RI; and Pittsburgh, PA that have address-specific maps available online showing what is known and not known about each customer’s service line. We encourage you to check out their maps. In the coming months, we will share a study EDF recently conducted that evaluates consumer reactions to various approaches to online maps to help guide communities planning similar efforts.

An accurate, publicly-accessible inventory of LSLs was a key element of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council’s (NDWAC) recommendations to EPA in December 2015 for its overdue revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).[1] Two months later, EPA sent letters to each governor and state environment/public health commissioner asking, as one of five near-term actions, that they:

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Article reveals serious shortcomings in Georgia’s oversight of lead in drinking water

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Safe drinking water largely depends on the integrity of the public water system and the vigilance of the state regulatory agency. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the standards, conducts the research, and oversees the state regulatory agencies. As we saw in Flint, Michigan, these protections break down when the state regulatory agency fails to identify and address potential compliance issues. Criminal charges have been filed against both state and local officials.

The Flint tragedy prompted EPA to send letters in February 2016 to governors and state agencies reminding of them of their responsibilities under the Safe Drinking Water Act and asking for a meeting with each state to discuss concerns and a written response to key compliance challenges under the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). EPA posted the state responses online.

The tap sampling required under the LCR is critical since it triggers treatment of the water for small and medium systems and public education and lead service line replacement for all systems if treatment is insufficient. Given this central role, the LCR requires water systems to take water samples from the taps of properties most likely to have lead. For small and medium systems, single family homes with lead service lines are a top priority.

The sampling requirement is challenging since it depends on the cooperation of the resident to let the water stagnate in the lines for at least six hours and then take a first draw sample before anyone uses the water. Residents may need an incentive to cooperate, especially over many years.

A disturbing, three-part investigative report by WebMD and Georgia Health News provided insight into potential shortcomings by utilities that are likely to underestimate the levels. It also highlights Georgia’s apparent failure to identify the problems. The investigators checked on changes in the sampling sites over the years and looked up the sampling locations to determine if they fit the criteria laid out in EPA’s rule. It is an impressive deep dive into LCR compliance sampling issues.

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