We and many of our colleagues in the public health, environmental and environmental justice communities are proposing several basic principles for replacing lead service lines. These principles are based upon our experience with efforts to replace these lead pipes in communities across the country, ranging from Flint and Benton Harbor Michigan to Newark, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC and many other locations.
As discussed in NRDC’s survey of lead service line (LSL) occurrence across the country, these risky lead pipes supply water to between 9 and 12 million homes in all states, serving tens of millions of residents. Because at any time they can leach or flake off small particles of lead, they are dangerous, especially for children. Since there is no safe level of lead exposure, NRDC and our partners strongly urge that every lead service line in the nation be fully removed as soon as possible, but no later than 10 years from now. Replacement is necessary whether a there is a full lead line, a galvanized steel line previously connected to a lead line, or a partial lead service line (where part of the pipe is lead and part is some other material), since every lead pipe in contact with drinking water presents a significant risk. Lead connectors such as pigtails or goosenecks—lead pipes often several feet long that connect the water main to a long straight pipe—and galvanized steel that has ever been downstream of any lead pipe also must be replaced, since they can contribute significant lead to tap water.
To be equitable, efficient, and protective of health, we urge that the principles established here guide any lead service line replacement (LSLR) program.