The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to partner with 200 underserved communities nationwide to provide technical assistance in identifying, locating and obtaining funding to remove lead-service lines. The new Get the Lead Out (GLO) initiative will be implemented in partnership with the U.S. Labor Department and is funded through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which allocated $15 billion for the removal of lead service lines across the United States. 

Radhika Fox, EPA’s assistant administrator for water, said that some 9.2 million drinking water pipes still contain lead, and they are most prevalent in older homes, often in urban, underserved communities. “They disproportionately impact families with the fewest resources to remove them,” she said Nov. 7.  

According to an EPA spokesperson, EPA staff and technical assistance contractors as well as water system staff or other providers will provide “tools, best practices, peer exchange and learning” to enable underserved communities to better understand the barriers to removing lead drinking water pipes and how to overcome them.

The GLO initiative builds on EPA’s lead service line accelerator program, established in January 2023. Through the accelerator program, a sort of pilot for the GLO initiative, EPA worked with 40 communities in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to address existing barriers and accelerate progress towards lead service-line identification and replacement.

The Biden administration has set a goal to remove 100% of lead service lines across U.S. but has not established an enforceable deadline for that goal. Environmental groups have pushed for more stringent regulation than the Lead and Copper Revisions Rule (LCCR), which was developed by EPA during the Trump administration.

EPA announced in June 2021 that it would release a more stringent Lead and Copper Improvements rule that also ensured that the communities most impacted by lead drinking water pipes would be prioritized sometime before the first deadline in the enacted LCRR rule, Oct. 16, 2024. That deadline requires communities to have completed their inventories of lead service lines. EPA officials say the accelerator and GLO initiatives are designed to help traditionally underserved communities meet these deadlines.

Enormous Undertaking

EPA announced earlier this month that it will award a $336-million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (WIFIA) loan to the City of Chicago for lead service line removal projects in annual $112-million increments for the next three years. The WIFIA loan, which will need to be repaid, but typically has more generous terms for borrowers than traditional loans, will help the city replace up to 30,000 lead service line pipes.

However, Chicago has approximately 400,000 lead service lines, says Sandra Kutzing, senior vice president and Lead and Copper Strategy Leader for CDM Smith. The firm is working with the city on lead service line replacement projects, she says. CDM Smith has also managed the replacement of over 23,000 lead service lines in Newark, NJ, 9,000 lead service lines in Trenton, NJ and is working with cities across the country to progress their replacement programs.

Kutzing told ENR the task of removing 100% of lead service line pipes across the U.S. is a daunting one. “A lot of the traditionally disadvantaged communities that have water systems—they’re short-staffed, under funded.” She added: “Honestly, there’s so much work to be done it’s all hands on deck.”