Cleveland is well on the way to removing lead pipes
February 14, 2022, posted February 19, 2022
President Biden’s visit to Cleveland this week will give the Bibb administration an opportunity to show off the progress made by the Cleveland Water Department (CWD) in addressing the problem of lead service lines (LSLs). While lead poisoning from the public water system is currently less hazardous than lead exposure from paint and soil, there is a need to address the presence of lead water lines before this aging system runs into problems.
Under the leadership of former mayor Frank Jackson, CWD has already begun a pilot program for replacing LSLs for child care facilities. This program can easily serve as a model for an expanded program that reaches beyond child care centers to include educational and low income housing properties. Because children between the ages of 0-6 are the citizens most vulnerable to the damage from exposure to lead, these priorities are an investment in Cleveland’s future.
In 2021, CWD initiated the LSL pilot program with $1,500,000 from the Ohio EPA’s Water Supply Revolving Loan Account (WSRLA) and the Governor’s H2Ohio program. Under the pilot program, CWD replaces both the public and private LSLs which bring water to child care centers. Replacement comes at no cost to the child care providers. There’s no cost to the ratepayers because the WSRLA funds come in the form of a forgivable loan and the H2Ohio funding is a grant. With this funding, CWD expects to be able to replace 450 LSLs for child care facilities. At the same time CWD and their contractors are building a wealth of experience at identifying and removing these lead dinosaurs from the community.
President Biden is coming to Cleveland now to promote the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This legislation will provide an estimated $355 million to Ohio’s Water Supply Revolving Loan Account (WSRLA) for LSL replacement. CWD’s track record with the current project should give the department a competitive edge in acquiring additional financial assistance.
Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) has some recommendations to the Bibb administration on ways to strengthen the CWD program.
Once all the child care facilities are made lead safe from the outside, the city of Cleveland needs to identify lead risks from water fixtures inside the property. Right now, child care facilities in Cleveland can benefit from indoor lead testing through the Ohio Department of Health’s WIIN program. More effort needs to go into enrolling child care providers in this free service.
CLASH recommends that the City’s new Lead Czar create a team of trained outreach professionals to encourage child care providers to make use of these free services. While easing providers’ hesitancy about testing their facilities, the outreach teams could also encourage child care centers to provide opportunities for their child customers to be tested, using the Cleveland Department of Public Health vans.
Once child care facilities are lead-free, CWD should turn its attention to removing LSLs at educational facilities and low income housing developments. The Administration’s Lead Czar could take on a coordinating role between CWD and Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.
Lead pipe replacement is not a made-for-TV movie. It will take years, particularly for our City which has one of the highest numbers of lead service lines of any in the nation. In the meantime CWD will need to maintain the current interim controls using orthophosphate and pH controls to provide back-up protections to Cleveland consumers while the lead pipes are removed and fixtures with lead in them remain in many residents’ homes. CWD should also expand testing sites in compliance with the new Federal Lead and Copper Rule and be ready to provide water filters to residential customers where higher levels of lead exposure are identified,
Thanks to CLASH member David Gleason for his research on this issue.
A version of this story was published by Cleveland.com
Read the full CLASH position paper on Lead Pipe Replacement