The Hidden Costs & Dangers of Partial Lead Pipe Replacements

Michigan recently proposed changes to a drinking water safeguard known as the Lead and Copper Rule, which is supposed to help remove lead from drinking water.
As the graphic below illustrates, water mains deliver water to the street then the water flows through service lines into our homes.
In Michigan, roughly 500,000 houses are connected to the water main by lead service lines, which are a source of lead contamination for drinking water.
In Michigan—and in most places around the country—water utilities require homeowners to cover the cost of replacing the portion of the pipe that runs from the property line to the home.
If residents do not replace the pipe due to their inability to pay or as the result of ineffective utility education and outreach programs, then the utility will often replace only the portion of the pipe that runs from the water main in the street to the curb.
First, as the name suggests, a partial replacement leaves lead pipes in the ground.
Because lead pipes are a source of lead contaminated drinking water, failure to remove the entire pipe leaves the source of lead contamination in place.
The EPA’s Science Advisory Board noted that partial replacements “have not been shown to reliably reduce drinking water lead levels in the short term, ranging from days to months, and potentially even longer.” Further, there is no financial case to be made for partial lead pipe replacement.
While the proposed rule’s stated goal is the removal of all lead pipes delivering water to homes, it contains significant loopholes that would allow water systems to accelerate partial replacements.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is taking comments on their suggested changes to the Lead and Copper Rule until March 21st.

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