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Vermont Begins Process to Find and Remove Lead Lines From Public Drinking Water

With $140 million of federal money in hand, state officials have launched a sweeping process to inventory and remove lead service lines that connect public drinking water systems to homes, businesses and other entities.

Officials with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation have asked people who use community water sources to keep an eye out for messages from water system professionals who may reach out to schedule a water line check. Vermont must complete the statewide inventory by October 2024.

If officials find lead pipes, the municipal water system would contact the homeowner or business to walk them through funding programs available to help replace the pipe, said Bruce King, the department’s sustainable infrastructure section supervisor.

“It’s a quick inspection,” King said. “It only takes five to 10 minutes for the water system professional to come in, take a look at the pipe, determine what type of material it’s made out of, maybe take a picture and then move on to the next home so they can meet this requirement.”

When consumed, lead is associated with a wide range of negative health impacts, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In children, even low levels of lead can cause behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, problems with hearing and anemia. During pregnancies, it can impact the growth of the fetus and cause premature birth. In adults, it can cause cardiovascular, kidney and reproductive problems.

The state’s effort also comes as a response to new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reducing exposure to lead in drinking water.

Across the country, federal actions have helped to lower levels of lead in children’s blood, according to a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to state governors. From 1976 to 1980, the median concentration of lead was 15 micrograms per deciliter, but by 2013, the median concentration had decreased to 0.7 micrograms per deciliter.

The federal government has allocated $140 million for Vermont from the 2021 infrastructure law to use on lead line replacements over a five-year period.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law is unique in that it allows water systems to use the funds to replace both utility-owned and the customer-owned portion of the service line, which is not typical,” King said. “Usually, it’s only the utility-owned portion.”

The state’s 70 largest public water systems are eligible for partially forgivable, low-interest loans. The department is funding contractors for water systems serving 1,000 or fewer people and offering staff support for schools and child care facilities.

King estimates that around 176,000 service lines will need to be inventoried throughout the state.

Asked whether the $140 million would cover all of the necessary replacements, King said he isn’t certain because the state doesn’t yet know how many of those 176,000 lines contain lead. Communities may also be eligible for funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which helped the town of Bennington replace its lead lines.

Of the federal funds, 49% are required by federal law to be spent on marginalized communities.

“We are prioritizing schools that are in towns that are disadvantaged communities first, to reach out to them to complete their inventories first,” King said. “However, we do believe we’ll have enough time and enough funds to address all communities in Vermont. And we don’t think any communities are going to get left behind with the assistance strategies that we have.”

Officials may reach out to people who get water from municipalities, homeowner associations, manufactured housing communities, schools, child care facilities, office buildings, factories and other public water systems.

The inventory does not apply to those who have private wells or those who have non-community water systems, such as restaurants, hotels, and fitness centers with separate water sources.

Source: VTDigger