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United Way of Lancaster County


City seeking $9 million to replace lead water service lines

From left, water pipes made of galvanized steel, copper and lead. (Source: Cleveland Water)

In 2019, Lancaster received a $9.1 million federal grant for its lead hazard control program, allowing it to dramatically scale up its efforts to eliminate lead paint hazards from the city’s aging housing stock.

Now the city is seeking a similar amount of money to tackle a related legacy problem: Lead water pipes.

Stephen Campbell

Lancaster’s water system serves the city and nine surrounding municipalities totaling about a quarter of Lancaster County’s population. The city has determined that about 550 of the 48,000 service lines connecting end users to the system are made of lead, Public Works Director Stephen Campbell said.

Another 3,200 are connected by service lines that may or may not be made of lead.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that water systems replace lead lines to reduce lead exposure. Lancaster is doing so, but it’s a slow process due to limited funding. Pandemic relief money available through the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development would allow Public Works to speed things up dramatically, Campbell said.

On Tuesday, City Council authorized Cambell’s department to seek $9 million from DCED’s Community Development Block Grant CARES Act allocation, or CDBG-CV.

If Lancaster succeeds in obtaining a CDBG-CV grant, it would allow Public Works to replace the 550 known lines in one to three years. Cost estimates for doing so range from $6.6 million to more than $8 million, Campbell said.

Any money left over would be put toward inspecting the 3,200 suspected lines to determine which ones are indeed lead and need to be replaced.

Without the grant, it will take the city take an estimated 35 years or more, at a cost of $1 million to $1.5 million a year, to replace all its lead pipes, Campbell said.

The CDBG-CV funding is part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, the Covid-19 relief legislation signed by President Trump in 2020. DCED has $71.5 million available, and any Pennsylvania municipality is eligible to apply.

Campbell said the city has reliable records for about 44,800 of its 48,000 service lines, which is how the 550 lead ones were identified. For the other 3,200, the city will initially look at other indicators, such as dates of building construction and any subsequent utility replacement work, to narrow its search.

“Where it is not known at all, the lines will need to be excavated to confirm whether they are lead or not,” he said.

Lancaster’s suspected and confirmed lead service lines together comprise less than 1% of the system’s total. They are not concentrated in any particular area of the system, and property owners are likely unaware that their service lines are lead, Campbell said.

The city uses EPA-approved corrosion control and water quality monitoring protocols, so those properties’ tap water is safe and potable, he said.

The lack of corrosion control is what led to the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan. In an attempt to cut costs, city officials began pumping untreated Flint River water through its system in 2014.

The water leached lead out of the pipes en route to residents’ homes, resulting in the exposure of all households in Flint to unsafe levels of lead for a year and a half, including 8,657 children under age 6.

Lead is an extremely potent neurotoxin, and even slightly elevated blood lead levels during fetal development or early childhood can lead to lifelong, irreversible learning and behavioral problems.

Nationwide, the EPA estimates there are 6 million to 10 million properties served by lead service lines.