Dec 14, 2023 - News

Philly's lead pipe replacement is on the clock

Illustration of pipes in the shape of a p and a b

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new EPA rule is putting Philadelphia and other cities on the clock to replace their lead pipes within a decade.

Why it matters: Thousands of Philly homes may have lead water service lines and exposure to the extremely toxic heavy metal can have dangerous health effects, especially for children.

Driving the news: The EPA also wants to lower the lead level threshold at which utilities are required to take action and improve tap sampling requirements, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

  • If a water system does have high levels of lead, the proposal would require the utility company to make filters available to all consumers.

What's happening: Philly's water mains are often made of iron rather than lead, reducing its issues compared to other big cities, but its service lines, which run from the mains to individual homes, may contain lead.

  • Property owners are responsible for maintaining their service lines, creating challenges around accessing and locating lead pipes — as well as funding their replacement.

Zoom in: About 20,000 out of 511,000 Philly properties may have lead lines, according to a Water Department estimate.

  • Homes built before 1950 are the most likely to have them.

Flashback: Philly received $500 million in federal funding this year to upgrade its aging drinking water infrastructure, a portion of which will go toward replacing mains and lead pipes.

  • Since 2017, the Water Department has replaced more than 2,600 lead lines for customers during water main replacements.

What they're saying: "We're absolutely committed to meeting the EPA's regulations once they're finalized," Water Department spokesperson Brian Rademaekers tells Axios.

Yes, but, he said more funding would be needed to replace all the lead lines in the city.

🧠 Be smart: The city offers a pair of programs for homeowners to replace lead service lines.

  1. The Homeowners Emergency Loan Program offers zero-interest loans to do the work.
  2. The city can replace your leadline for free if crews are already replacing the water main on your street.
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