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May 19, 2024 3:04 pm

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North Carolina to receive $76m to replace drinking water lines that contain lead

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by Lisa Sorg, NC Newsline
May 2, 2024

North Carolina will receive an additional $76 million for utilities to remove and replace lead service lines that could be contaminating the drinking water, the Biden administration announced today.

The money is part of a $9 billion package for all states and U.S. territories, as well as tribal lands, through 2026, with $3 billion available each year.

Half of this funding will go to disadvantaged communities, said EPA Administrator Michael Regan, “a crucial investment for communities that have been underserved and overburdened by pollution for far too long.” Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are often at particular risk because governments have historically failed to invest in those areas.

“It’s far past time to get the lead out once and for all. This is a matter of public health, a matter of environmental justice and a matter of basic human rights,” Regan said.

Lead service lines were primarily installed from the late 1800s to the 1940s. However, some communities laid them through the 1980s until they were banned by the federal government in 1986, according to the EPA. In North Carolina, the State Plumbing Code banned the use of lead in these materials in March 1987. Nonetheless, there are still 9 million of these old pipes in use today, sending contaminated drinking water into homes nationwide, according to the EPA. The funding awarded so far will help replace 1.7 million of those lines, including lead-containing goosenecks and connectors.

Lead in drinking water is a public health crisis. Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead because their brains are developing. They can suffer irreversible brain damage, resulting in lifelong cognitive and behavioral problems. (The 2016 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, involved lead; many children in that city had double the blood levels deemed unsafe by public health officials.) Yet even adults exposed to lead can develop high blood pressure, as well as reproductive, kidney and brain disorders.

There is no safe amount of lead. The EPA Action Level in drinking water — the concentration at which a utility must address the contamination — is 15 parts per billion. It applies to public water supplies only, not private wells.

The new allocation for North Carolina is in addition to $87 million the state received as part of a congressional appropriation under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Yet that money is nearly exhausted. Of that original funding, the state Division of Water Infrastructure has awarded $74.2 million in grants and low-interest loans to more than 100 utilities to inventory their systems, and if necessary, replace the lead-containing service lines.

Under the proposed lead and copper rule improvements the EPA would require all public water systems to inventory their service lines and to replace any lead service lines as – at least 7% of their respective totals each year. The goal is to eliminate all lead-containing service lines in 10 years. The money does not cover lead plumbing inside private homes, which is the responsibility of the property owner.

The final rule is expected to be issued by October, according to a senior Biden administration official.

Whether a utility receives funding or not, it still must comply with EPA rules in finding or replacing the lines:

  • When the public side of lead service lines or galvanized pipe is replaced, if the homeowner’s side also contains that material, the utility must also replace it.
  • Galvanized pipes must be replaced if they are downstream of lead-containing service lines.
  • Connectors and goosenecks containing lead should be tracked.
  • The deadline for utilities to inventory their systems is Oct. 14, 2024.
  • Utilities must make the inventory publicly available, and in multiple languages if there are non-English speakers in the service area.
  • Water systems serving more than 50,000 people must provide inventories online.
  • Utilities must notify their customers if service lines were found to contain lead, or if the line status is unknown; this information must be provided within 30 days of when the inventory is complete. That means all North Carolinians should know whether their utility found lead service lines by Nov. 14, 2024.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.