Getting the Lead Out

Lead Water Lines and DC Homes

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DC Water’s Lead Map: A quick way to determine if you might have lead pipes in your home.

While older homes are cherished for their charm, they also come with issues.  And, while many maintenance projects are apparent, others are hidden within a home’s structure. Lead water pipes and lead paint are among these.  The US Environmental Protection Agency finds lead to be “a persistent metal that can bioaccumulate in the body over time”. Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead, and a dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant impact on a child’s development. Even low levels of lead exposure are linked to learning disabilities, shorter stature, and impaired hearing. Pets can be susceptible to lead as well.

While lead paint was banned in the US in 1978, less attention was given to lead water pipes which were installed in homes as late as 1977. While main water lines, including those running to multifamily buildings, are usually too large to be made of lead, lead lines may be found running from the street to a home’s water meter (public property) and/or from the meter to the house (private property).

DC Water and the DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) are working with residents to replace lead water lines and ensure that replacement is affordable. They have an ambitious goal of replacing all lead water lines in the District by 2030.  To meet this goal, while DC law has long required landlords and home sellers to disclose any known lead paint in a home, law now requires the disclosure of any lead pipes as well.

DC Water joins residents in celebrating the replacement of lead water pipes using DC funding. Photo: DC Water

So, how do find out if you have lead pipes?  As a first step, go to DC Water’s Lead map at dcwater.com/leadmap and type in your address to determine if there is a likelihood that you have lead pipes and whether they’re in the public or private space. Note that this database was built with historic records, which are not always accurate. If there’s a possibility that you have lead pipes, the District has three programs to help you replace these lines. It’s the responsibility of the homeowner – versus any tenants – to apply for these programs.

1) The Full Lead Water Service Line Replacement Program – In October 2019, the District allocated $1 million to cover the entire cost of lead water service pipe replacement on private property when DC Water is replacing the lead pipe in the public space during a water main replacement project. Customers don’t need to apply to this program as DC Water will contact you if there are any planned projects in your neighborhood.

2) The Lead Pipe Replacement Assistance Program (LPRAP) – In October 2019, the District also allocated $1.8 million dollars to replace lead pipes on private property if the pipe in the public space is not lead. Under this program, a property owner can receive a 50% discount on the cost of the lead line replacement up to $2500 – regardless of income. Some residents will qualify for 80% or 100% coverage depending on household size and income. A list of qualifying properties are has been compiled here, and homeowners can apply for the program at dcwater.com/lead-discount.

3) Under the Voluntary Replacement Program, if both portions of pipe are lead and the property owner meets specific requirements and agrees to pay for the pipe replacement on private property, DC Water will coordinate and replace the public space portion at the same time.  While a homeowner can hire their own contractor to do the work, DOEE will review the contract and ensure that all work meets lead replacement standards.  They’ll also provide free lead testing kits to monitor lead levels both pre and post replacement. See https://www.dcwater.com/voluntary-replacements.

According to John Deignan, Water Communications Coordinator at DC Water, while there is a waiting list for both the LPRAP and the Voluntary Programs, he encourages residents to enroll now have their lead pipes replaced in 2020. He notes, “The average cost to customers to replace lead water is somewhere around $2500-$5000.  The cost depends on several factors including the length of pipe to be replaced, and the new connection into the house.  We realize that this is a burden, so that’s why we’ve set up these discount programs. Removing lead is one sure way we can improve the health of DC residents – and especially children.”

Do you have lead pipes in your home? How about adding lead line replacement to your list of 2020 resolutions? If you have any questions regarding lead, contact DC Water at lead@dcwater.com or (202) 787-4044. Your family and especially your kids and pets will thank you.

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler.  She is also the Vice Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.