Ask ELi: How is the City Addressing Potential Lead in Service Lines?

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Courtesy the City of East Lansing

A crew hydro-excavating a service line.

An ELi reader recently posed the question: “What is the real world consequence to information from the city about possible lead exposure from galvanized steel service lines? A plan to make a 20 year plan is not responsive to what seems to be a potentially worrisome situation.”

So ELi passed that question along to Director of Public Works Scott House. 

“Over the past 18 months we have been busy with Lead and Copper work, despite the impacts of Covid-19,” House said. “Our primary efforts consist of service line inventory, testing and service line replacement.”

Covid-19 has impacted DPW projects, House said, but it has not entirely halted the work of replacing failed galvanized steel service lines and taking inventory of the service line material. DPW’s goal is to limit both service disruptions and the need for staff to enter “occupied properties.” 

Service lines are the connecting pipes between City water mains and buildings. When House referred to “taking inventory” of the materials used in service lines, he referenced a company the City has contracted to identify materials in service lines without having to remove them entirely.

“We contracted with Badger Hydro-excavating to help identify underground water service line materials in the right of way,” House said. “Hydro-excavating can best be explained as loosening soil with high pressure water and using a giant vacuum to remove soil, exposing the underground infrastructure.” 

He continued: “This is a very unobtrusive method to identify water line materials. Once the survey is complete, the holes are back-filled. Hydro-excavating is a critical tool in completing our water service material survey.” 

The City has tested 667 service lines this way, House said. Residents who are unsure what their service line is made of, or know there is potential lead, can call the DPW and schedule an appointment. The City is required to submit a service line inventory to the State Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) in 2025 and will continue to ramp up efforts to inventory.

Also, in concert with the East Lansing Meridian Water and Sewer Authority, the City conducted three rounds of lead and copper water testing from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, House said. Property owners drew the water from their plumbing that was picked up by staff.

“The first two testing sequences involved 63 properties and the third, 62 properties,” House said. 

“Testing was focused on properties that had galvanized lines,” he continued, but the sample was supplemented by “Tier 3 sites that do not have lead or galvanized service lines, but are properties with copper plumbing with lead solder installed before July of 1988.”

According to House, all the properties tested fell well below the “lead action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb). The highest reading registered was 7 ppb at a Tier 3 site without a galvanized line. For a Tier 1 site, the highest reading 3.4 ppb.

“The greatest concern regarding galvanized lines is disruption of the line during construction that may potentially release a trapped lead particle,” House said. “To mitigate this impact, our goal is to replace galvanized and lead lines whenever we do projects that would impact service lines.”  

Residents can also clean the aerator in their sinks, regardless of where they live, House said, especially following work on internal plumbing.

“To date, we have replaced 50 services and have identified 50 more in project areas for replacement,” House said. “The City has until 2045 to replace all lead and galvanized services, with the goal of completing this process before then.  We have a lot of work to do and will need the support of residents as we move forward.”  

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