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Local water systems work to remove lead pipes, but it will take decades to get them all

Local water systems work to remove lead pipes, but it will take decades to get them all (WKRC){ }
Local water systems work to remove lead pipes, but it will take decades to get them all (WKRC)
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CINCINNATI (WKRC) - The train derailment in East Palestine and chemical contamination of the air, ground, and water has those along the Ohio River Watershed focused on water quality.

However, another risk already persists in public water systems, the risk of lead service lines.

In 1991, the EPA issued the Lead & Copper Rule. The measure mandated water systems adjust their water chemistry to control corrosion, therefore limiting lead leaching into the water.

During his State of the Union Address, President Biden said he wanted all lead lines out of water systems within the decade.

Local 12 reached out to the two largest water districts in the tri-state to see if that plan was possible.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) Superintendent Jeff Swertfeger was asked about their process of removing lead service lines.

"As of today, we have somewhere around 37,000 lines that are either full or partial lead," Swertfeger said.

A service line comes off the water main and into homes. The line is split between the homeowner's side and the water works' side.

"In older homes around here, homes that are built before 1927, it's possible that those could be made of lead," said Swertfeger. "So, either the part that connects the water main to the property line or the part that goes from the property line into the home."

GCWW has a website for customers to see if they have lead pipes on both service sides, a combination, or no lead.

Local 12 asked Swertfeger how long GCWW anticipates it will take to get all lead lines replaced.

"At the pace we're currently going, somewhere about 30 years or so," Swertfeger said. "The pace that we're on right now, we will replace all the public ones within about 15 years, but to get all the private ones out, it'll probably be about 30 years or so."

GCWW offers a free service line replacement program, although there is a wait for service.

GCWW was asked if it is applying for federal money to speed up the replacement program.

"Absolutely," Swertfeger said. "There's nothing technically difficult about removing lead lines. I mean, it's a matter of getting the funding and the money in place. So, we're pursuing every avenue that we can to try to get money for this."

Local 12 was able to converse with Northern Kentucky Water District (NKWD) as well. Manager of Legal, Compliance, and Regulator Affairs Tom Edge responded to questions in email.

Edge was asked how many lead pipes are still within the system.

Edge responded that NKWD is, "in the process of developing an inventory of our service lines to make sure our customers understand and have access to information regarding their service line."

Edge added that NKWD doesn't know the exact number, but a conservative estimate is that 24,000 water district owned lines, and 29,000 customer owned portions are lead. Edge also says there are another 27,000 lines the district can't clearly determine, and they are presumed to be lead out of caution.

Local 12 asked NKWD what is being done to make sure the pipes do not pose a risk to residents.

“In order to protect our customers, NKWD treats the drinking water with a safe corrosion control inhibitor fed at our three treatment plants. The corrosion control inhibitor builds a protective coating inside the pipe which helps control any potential release of lead into the water from the pipe," said Edge.

Edge also added that, "at a customer’s request, NKWD will test for lead in their homes at no cost."

Local 12 asked if there are any programs to help residents replace lead service pipes in their homes.

"NKWD is actively seeking federal grants and principal forgiveness loans to assist with the replacement of the customer-owned portion of lead service lines," Edge responded.

During his State of the Union Address, President Biden said he seeks to replace all lead service pipes within the next 10 years. Local 12 asked NKWD if this timeline is feasible.

“It is, but frankly, significant federal funding and more time is needed to replace all lead service lines in the NKWD service area," Edge wrote.

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Edge added that a more realistic time frame is closer to 25-30 years for the service area of NKWD.

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