Sep 20, 2022 - News

Des Moines to launch a new lead pipe abatement program

Illustration of pipes shaped like a dollar sign.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Roughly 20,000 metro homes have lead water pipes that will cost upwards of $200 million to replace, according to estimates from Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) provided to Axios last week.

Why it matters: Lead is destructive to human health and it can leach from pipes into water systems.

State of play: Iowa has among the highest estimated rate of children — 76% of kids under 6 — with lead detected in their blood, according to a study published last year by JAMA Pediatrics.

  • The primary source for exposure being older housing.
  • Lead pipes were largely phased out before 1940 while the commercial sale of lead-based paint was banned by the federal government in 1978.

Driving the news: The utility is spearheading the creation of a pilot program among metro governments to help families shoulder the replacement costs, Jenny Puffer, director of water distribution, tells Axios.

  • The goal is to launch early next year and to first target neighborhoods with the worst problems.

What's happening: Metro customers own and are generally responsible for water line maintenance on their property. The typical cost to remove lead pipes from a home is around $10,000, Puffer said.

  • State and federal grants frequently cover about half the cost but the remaining expense leaves the work unattainable for many families, Puffer said.
  • The DMWW program would attempt to cover much or all the rest.

The big picture: As many as 10 million U.S. homes and 400,000 schools get water through lead service lines, White House officials estimated last year.

Threat level: High.

Yes, but: DSM's water is not corrosive and, in many cases, lead is not actively leaching into drinking water, Puffer said.

  • Free testing is available for most DMWW customers who own homes built before 1940.

Check your home: DMWW has published a map showing locations with potential lead lines in DSM, Pleasant Hill, Windsor Heights and unincorporated Polk County.

Of note: People who live in other communities can check with their water utility provider for lead mapping.

Service line inventories are to be completed under federal guidelines by Oct. 16, 2024.

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