Lead pipes: A threat to kids across America

Replacing America’s lead service lines should be a national priority

Mother and daughter at sink

Photo credit: PeopleImages

Flint failed its residents, especially its children, at many levels. It’s now our collective responsibility to help the people of Flint and protect children across America. More than 500,000 kids1 in the U.S. have elevated levels of lead in their blood, primarily from lead paint and pipes.

  • 6-10 millionU.S. homes have lead pipes2

Up to ten million homes across the country get water through lead pipes - called lead service lines - that connect the main drinking water line in the street to our homes.

Corrosion control can help manage the risk of lead in water, but the only effective fix is getting rid of the lead pipes. We need a strategy that addresses the root causes of lead exposure before a crisis hits, not after it.

A new approach

  • Accelerate replacement. We need to remove the single largest source of lead in our water. Replacement of the entire lead service line must be an essential part of the program, rather than a last resort. Water utilities, public health, environmental, and consumer organizations must collaborate to develop the programs communities need to drive service line removal. EDF is working with 22 other national organizations as part of the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative to do just that.
  • Make replacement affordable. Replacing lead service lines can be cost-prohibitive, especially for families who own their home and find they have lead pipes. We need a cooperative, community-based approach to identify lead service lines and help finance removal.
  • Update drinking water regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to overhaul its lead in drinking water rule. EPA also must issue a health-based household action level for lead in drinking water to help guide people as they decide on a course of action.
  • Improve oversight of suppliers. Federal, state and local entities must also improve oversight to make sure utilities that supply water comply with the law.
  • Disclose hazards earlier. When people buy or rent a home, they need to be told clearly and definitely about any lead pipes so that they can factor replacement costs into their decision making.

Why replace lead pipes?

Over time, water can corrode these service lines, allowing lead to leach into the water. In response, utilities add chemicals to reduce the amount of lead getting into the drinking water.

But corrosion control can fail. Failures can be community-wide – like in Flint, where officials switched to more corrosive water – or in a single home when a pipe is disturbed. Unpredictable failures often go undetected.

While corrosion control is necessary, it isn’t a fail-safe, long-term solution. Twenty years from now, we don’t want to still be struggling with these failures.

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Sources
  1. "Blood Lead Levels in Children Aged 1–5 Years — United States, 1999–2010," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. "National Survey of Lead Service Line Occurrence," Journal - American Water Works Association, April 2016