“We started asking about lead, and what is the safe level of lead, and there isn’t one, especially for kids. So we said the prudent thing to do is to improve the testing and start getting these lead pipes out. Get the lead out.”
In 2004, then-Michigan State Senator Virg Bernero encouraged local officials to work with Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL) Commissioners to speed up the removal of lead service lines (LSLs). The BWL, a municipally-owned utility, funded the program as an infrastructure investment, and utility customers shared the cost through an increase in their water rates. BWL gave priority to lines serving schools and licensed day care facilities, areas where children had elevated blood lead levels, households with pregnant women or children under age 6, and other places with high concentrations of LSLs.
From 2004 to 2016, Lansing, Michigan, replaced 12,150 LSLs with copper lines, becoming only the second city in the country to remove all its active lead service lines. The total cost was $44.5 million.
Lead Service Line Replacement
BWL has developed a faster, more efficient way to replace pipes; what had been a nearly 8-hour job, $9,000 job requiring a trench to be dug from the main in the street to the foundation of the house, has been streamlined to 4 hours at a cost of $3,600. Instead of trenching, BWL now digs a hole in the street and another where the shut-off valve is, pulls the old pipe out from underground and slides in the new one.
Additionally, where possible, the lead service line replacement program has followed planned street, sewer, and other infrastructure improvement projects to minimize street closures and reduce the cost of street reconstruction.
Service line replacements were scheduled to prioritize replacing any lead service lines serving schools and licensed day care centers, areas having children with elevated blood lead levels, households with pregnant women or children under age six, and other areas with large concentrations of lead service lines.
The lead service line replacement program engages customers through outreach (distribution of brochures and articles in bills, open houses at schools and community centers, and information inserted in routine water quality reports).
BWL water quality reports indicate a decrease in lead levels in the water over 10 years, from 2005 to 2015, with 90 percent of homes at or below 7.8 parts per billion in 2015 (down from 11.3 parts per billion in 2005). Although the BWL completed its lead service line replacement program, it will continue its corrosion control process.
In August, 2017, the Health Impact Project, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Pew Charitable Trusts released: Ten Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure. The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), Urban Institute, Altarum Institute, Child Trends and many researchers and partners contributed to the report. TFAH and NCHH worked with Pew, RWJF and local advocates and officials to put together the above case study about lead poisoning and prevention initiatives.
The case study does not attempt to capture everything a location is doing on lead, but aims to highlight some of the important work.