MI Lead Pipe Replacement Nearing Completion
This month, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that the accelerated campaign to replace aging lead water service lines in the City of Benton Harbor is nearing completion, almost five months ahead of schedule.
As of Friday (Nov. 11), the project was 99.2% complete, with 4,500 water service lines having been replaced or verified non-lead. The project was a result of three years of testing revealing that Benton Harbor’s water system lead levels in its tap water were too high.
About the Project
Based on preliminary data submitted by water suppliers in 2020, approximately 331,000 service lines across Michigan were known or likely to contain lead, roughly 12% of the total service lines in the state. An additional approximately 314,000 service lines were reportedly of unknown material.
The state’s updated Lead and Copper Rule under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act requires communities to replace an average of 5% of their total lead service lines (LSLs) each year, totaling 100% replacement in 20 years. However, if a water supply has an action level exceedance, it must increase the replacement rate to 7% each year.
While the LCR did not require Benton Harbor to remove 7% of its LSLs per year, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) proactively ordered the city to do so for the 12 months beginning in July 2021.
Michigan officials said nearly all of the lead pipes in Benton Harbor, Michigan, have been replaced roughly a year after a lead water crisis forced residents to avoid their tap water and use bottled water for simple tasks like cooking and drinking. https://t.co/WUG01ve2BO— AP Climate is at COP27 (@AP_Climate) November 4, 2022
In response, Governor Whitmer called for the process to occur on an expedited timeline of 100% replacement over the next 18 months, by March 2023. The administration also secured more than $18 million for LSLs replacements. Almost a year ago, Benton Harbor launched its first round of replacements.
The Associated Press reports that, in December of last year, tests revealed that lead levels in the city’s tap water had dropped, indicating that treatments efforts meant to prevent pipes from leaching lead into drinking water were helping.
To date, Michigan Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reports that less than 40 more inspections need to be completed to finalize the project. This progress is updated daily on the Benton Harbor project dashboard.
“Every Michigander deserves access to safe drinking water and have confidence in the water coming out of their tap,” said Governor Whitmer. “Last year, community partners, local officials, state departments and federal agencies came together to secure bipartisan funding and set an ambitious target to replace every lead line to protect the health and safety of every family in the City of Benton Harbor.
“We are getting it done ahead of schedule thanks to all our partners and most importantly, the Michiganders who did the hard work of replacing these lines. Let’s keep working together to protect drinking water.”
According to the Department’s release, state and local officials also reiterated their ongoing commitment to Benton Harbor residents as it moves towards the next phase of reducing in-home lead exposure risks. Lead-reducing filters, bottled water, free home lead inspections and abatement services will reportedly continue to be offered.
"The Lead Line Replacement Project, started in October 2021, was planned to be completed in March 2023. The fact that we have not only replaced virtually all of the lead lines in the City of Benton Harbor but have finished the job ahead of schedule is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Ellis Mitchell, City of Benton Harbor City Manager.
“A project of this magnitude could not have been accomplished without tremendous resources and support from every level of government. Thank you to all our partners who worked with us to get this critical work done."
Recent MI, Benton Harbor Lead Efforts
In December of last year, the EGLE announced the development of its Corrosion Control Advisory Panel to reduce lead in Michigan drinking water.
The panel members consist of drinking water professionals who will advise drinking water systems with aging lead service lines on effective corrosion control strategies. The panel will report to the EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division, which reportedly regulates 2,685 public drinking water systems under Michigan’s Lead and Copper Rule.
According to the release, potential roles of the panel include:
Back in August, the MDHHS announced that it was providing training scholarships to construction firm staff and general laborers. The new scholarship program aims to increase the number of certified individuals to conduct lead-based paint hazard removal.
According to MDHHS, the lead abatement industry needs certified professionals to complete lead paint-related projects across the state, both in terms of finding or testing for lead paint as well as eliminating lead paint from homes and other properties.
While the state has an existing lead workforce hub where professionals can inquire about abatement and investigation certifications, MDHHS is now offering training scholarships to receive certifications as lead abatement workers and/or lead abatement supervisors
Lead abatement eliminates lead hazards in paint, soil, dust and sometimes household plumbing. Some lead abatement activities include replacing windows, doors and other housing components. In order to perform lead abatement in the state of Michigan, workers must hold a Lead Abatement Firm certification.
Construction firm staff and general laborers interested in removing lead-based paint hazards from homes located in the Benton Harbor area can receive training and state certification at no cost through the Lead Workforce Scholarship.
The Department reports that the worker course covers three days of training and requires no prior experience. Supervisors are required to undergo four days of training and must have at least two years of construction-related experience.
Upon completion of training, individuals will need to take an examination from the state to complete certification. MDHHS must approve applications for training prior to taking the courses.
If interested in applying, individuals are asked to email LCCAinfo@michigan.gov.
Although no scholarships are being offered at this time, the MDHHS also offers certifications for lead inspectors, lead risk assessors and elevated blood lead investigators. More information on initial certifications courses, refresher courses, state exam in-person and online dates, as well as accredited lead training providers can be found here.
US Lead Action Plan
At the end of last year, the White House released its Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, to deliver clean drinking water, replace lead pipes and remediate lead paint. The goal of the plan is to replace all lead pipes in the next decade.
According to the White House, approximately 10 million American households and 400,000 schools land childcare centers are served by a lead service line or pipe. About 24 million housing units have lead-based paint hazards, which reportedly 4 million of house young children.
The plan, according to the White House Fact Sheet, features 15 new actions with more than 10 federal agencies. These actions are divided into three categories, including getting resources to communities, updating rules and strengthen enforcement and reducing exposure in disadvantaged communities, schools, daycare centers and public housing.
This includes $2.9 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law for lead pipe replacement to states, tribes and territories; providing guidance and technical assistance for lead service lines and removal projects; and the announcement of the development of a new regulation to protect communities from lead in drinking water, among other initiatives.
In terms of funding, in additional to the $350 billion provided in the American Rescue Plan, the White House is investing $15 billion of direct funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law for lead service line replacements through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
The White House states that low-income people and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to the risks of lead-contaminated drinking water, including Non-Hispanic Black people being more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic white people to live in moderately or severely substandard housing.