Lead pipes: A threat to kids across America

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

Flint failed its residents, especially its children, at many levels. It's now our collective responsibility to ensure that the tragedy that occurred in Flint is not replicated in other cities 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.

  • 9.2 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 long-term 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. When present, lead service lines are the largest source of lead in water. Replacement of the entire lead service line must be prioritized to reduce lead in drinking water, rather than used as 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 27 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 needs to overhaul its lead in drinking water rule – the Lead and Copper Rule. In fall 2019, EPA proposed a revision to the LCR that would be a step forward but also has several serious flaws.
  • 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 definitively about any lead pipes so that they can factor replacement costs into their decision making.

Why replace lead pipes?

Over time, water can corrode lead service lines, allowing lead to leach into the water. To prevent this, 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. The best long-term solution is to replace the lead service lines. Twenty years from now, we don't want to still be struggling with these failures.

  1. "Blood Lead Levels in Children Aged 1–5 Years — United States, 1999–2010," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. EPA’s proposed Lead and Copper Rule revisions estimate 9,267,910 LSLs in use on the rule’s effective date in 2023. See Exhibits 4-10 in EPA’s Economic Analysis.