Detroit lead pipe replacement could be long and costly

Posted at 6:44 AM, Mar 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-10 06:53:10-05

DETROIT (AP) — Detroit’s water chief said it could take decades and up to $500 million to remove underground water lines that could potentially threaten people’s health with lead.

Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown cited the figures this week at a national water conference held in Flint, a city trying to replace its own service lines in the wake of a lead contamination crisis.

Detroit avoided a similar situation by coating its aging pipes with phosphate corrosion control chemicals. But experts warn that water coming through any lead pipe is dangerous by modern standards. The city has at least 125,000 underground lead service lines.

“We’re not Chicago or New York with multi-unit dwellings,” Brown said Tuesday. “We’re single-family homes, and just about all of that housing was built before 1950, so just about all of our houses have (lead service lines).”

The federal government provided local communities nationwide nearly $2.5 billion last year for water infrastructure upgrades through the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund.

Detroit tested its lead levels last summer and found that 99 percent of homes tested 4 parts per billion lead, well below the federal limit of 15 parts per billion. But families are still nervous about their lead levels.

Detroit Health Department Director Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is expected to announce an initiative to better coordinate lead-fighting efforts citywide and speed up help to worried residents.

Khaldun said the initiative’s website will provide resources and information on Detroit’s lead poisoning. It will also include information for residents, researchers, schools and others combating lead in the city.

“It’s about making sure kids are getting tested. It’s about educating our families,” she said. “And we are providing early education and comprehensive services to support families who have been exposed.”