Cincinnati City Council’s Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee voted last week to send the letters to roughly 16,000 homeowners.
It is an action Councilman Christopher Smitherman has been calling for in light of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan since he learned in January that lead pipes exist in Cincinnati’s system.
Smitherman is now calling for Water Works to create a small loan program to assist families who might not be able to afford replacement of their lead pipes.
After Flint, lead water pipes raise concern in Cincinnati (Cincinnati.com)
“I think this is a good first step to notify property owners of the risk no matter how small the risk,” Smitherman said. “The impact of lead on humans dictates that the government act to protect citizens” that cannot afford it.
Many communities across America are taking a hard look at their drinking water systems in the aftermath of the Flint situation. Countless residents, including many children, have been poisoned by lead-laced water. Ten deaths caused by a bacterial infection known as Legionnaire’s disease have been reported.
The public health emergency occurred after officials began taking water from the Flint River and did not properly treat it for lead.
City leaders here in Cincinnati don’t want citizens to panic. Greater Cincinnati Water Works closely monitors its water and has never had a lead violation, according to officials. Cincinnati has had a successful lead corrosion control program that has protected customers for years.
But the pipes’ mere existence can cause a threat, officials confirm.
Worried about lead in your water? Here’s what to do (Cincinnati.com)
The best – albeit expensive – solution would be to remove all the pipes, Water Works Assistant Superintendent Jeff Swertfeger has said.
The existence of lead pipes in older cities drinking water systems is relatively common. It was a popular building material when early systems were constructed.
However, discussions about removing all lead are ramping up across the country.
According to data provided by Water Works, roughly 17 percent of the lead service lines leading to people’s homes in Cincinnati are made of lead.
It is far less likely for a suburban Water Works customer to have lead pipes because their homes tend to have been built after the practice of using lead pipes ended.
When Water Works completes work on the system it removes lead pipes but part of the complexity of the issue is Water Works does not have the legal obligation nor right to remove pipes on private property.
That means the portion of the pipe that is the responsibility of the homeowner may still be lead, meaning lead pipes are likely present in far more homes than the 16,000 which received letters.
Removing lead pipes is estimated to cost roughly $5,000.
Besides sending out the letters, Greater Cincinnati Water Works has taken other steps to further educate and protect citizens.
It was not immediately clear whether the 1,955 customers with lead service lines outside of Cincinnati will get letters, too.
Water Works also plans to prioritize schools, daycares and other “susceptible” properties in its replacement program, Water Works Chief Engineer Russ Weber said.
The utility is also looking for ways to increase the number of annual replacements. Total replacement has been estimated to cost $82 million.
Carrie Blackmore Smith, 11:40 a.m. EDT April 7, 2016
16K Cincinnatians getting letters about lead pipes