Lead is one of the most harmful substances you can find in your drinking water. Exposure to even tiny amounts can lead to serious developmental, mental and physical setbacks. Unfortunately, much of America’s aging water pipe infrastructure was built using lead pipes. Fixing this problem is a complex, ongoing process. Often, the cost of municipal pipe rehabilitation or trenchless underground pipe repair seems prohibitive for communities with strapped budgets. Also, it can be hard to accurately measure and identify levels of lead in tap water.
There’s no level of lead that’s safe for human consumption. Therefore, it’s vitally important to keep members of your community protected from this toxic substance. The first step is to understand the threat so you can combat it effectively. In this article, we’ll explore and dispel some common misconceptions about lead in water pipes. We’ll also discuss how Spray In Place Solutions (SIPS) can meet your municipal trenchless pipe rehabilitation needs and protect your community from lead exposure.
Why America Has so Many Lead Pipes
When lead and bacteria were found in the Flint, Michigan water pipes in 2014, the crisis gained national attention. However, the problem was not limited to this town—lead water pipes are still a pervasive issue across America today. Why is the United States still facing so many challenges due to lead water pipes?
Lead has many qualities that make it ideal for building pipes. It’s easily shaped and soft, yet also durable. When much of America’s infrastructure was built, lead was a more expensive option than other pipe-building materials, but considered a worthwhile investment due to its projected lifespan. Today, there are over 6.1 million lead service lines still being used in the U.S.
When Replacement Is Too Expensive
Digging up existing water lines is costly and disruptive, and many city budgets just can’t accommodate it. Therefore, some communities opt for conservative management procedures instead. Instructing residents to flush existing pipes for several minutes before using the water, for instance, is thought to wash away any lead that may have settled in the unused pipe. Sometimes, phosphate coatings are also applied to pipe interiors, to prevent lead from leaching into the water supply. However, these methods can work against each other and are often ineffective.
What Makes Lead so Dangerous
Why is exposure to small amounts of lead such a big deal? For one thing, lead poisoning is cumulative. This means that the substance can remain in a person’s system over long periods of time, causing greater and greater harm. Children are especially at risk, since they absorb more lead than adults do. Pregnant women are also at higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and other negative outcomes due to lead exposure.
There’s a strong link between lead exposure and lower IQ levels. In fact, the WHO attributes 30% of all global idiopathic intellectual disability to lead poisoning. Lead can also cause heart and kidney disease, behavioral problems, and reproductive harm. There is no way to reverse much of the damage caused by lead, so protection from exposure is the most reliable way to escape the threat.
Detroit: A City Plagued by Lead Contamination
Detroit is far from the only American city struggling to deal with lead in its pipes. However, the extent of its problem has recently brought this city to the nation’s attention. It’s estimated that over 80,000 lead service lines have been bringing contaminated water to Detroit homes – in both high-income and low-income neighborhoods. Unfortunately, lead wasn’t the only harmful substance detected in Detroit water. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization, identified 56 contaminants in water consumed by residents. These included several known carcinogens.
High levels of poverty mean that the city simply can’t afford to fund replacement projects from within. Without sufficient EPA funding, Detroit has struggled to put an end to this public health threat. While the city is speeding up its efforts to replace affected lines, the project could cost up to $1 billion to complete. As of 2022, the city had received around $100 million in grants. While this brings the city one step closer to its goals, Detroit still has a long road ahead.
Common Misconceptions About Lead Issues in Pipes
Most people are aware that lead pipes can be a serious health hazard. However, some common misconceptions can limit communities’ ability to combat the threat effectively. Let’s take a look at a few misunderstandings that often crop up regarding lead pipes and municipal pipe rehabilitation.
Misconception #1: Lead Is Only found in Residential Pipes
It’s dangerous to assume that lead is only to be found in the lines that run from homes to streets. Even if residents replace all of their own plumbing, they might still have lead in their tap water. Of course, it’s essential to deal with lead in private plumbing. But the lines that run from the water main to the street can also contain harmful amounts of lead.
Misconception #2: Low Levels of Lead Are Nothing to Worry About
There’s no such thing as a “safe” amount of lead exposure. While the effects of lead poisoning are often more pronounced in children, adults can suffer significant harm, too. Unfortunately, looking for symptoms is not a reliable way to tell whether you’re being exposed to too much lead. Once symptoms are detectable, the levels of lead in a person’s system have already escalated to dangerous levels.
Misconception #3: Tap Water That Has Tested Negative for Lead Is Always Safe
Lead cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. That’s why residents and cities must rely on at-home testing to know whether a home’s occupants are being exposed to lead. However, home testing for lead can be unreliable and inaccurate. It can easily underestimate the amounts of lead present in tap water. It’s true that at-home testing can be an important tool in the fight against lead poisoning. However, high-quality testing equipment and close adherence to instructions are necessary to produce meaningful results.
Misconception #4: Pipe Replacement Is the Only Way to Solve a Lead Problem
There’s an alternative to digging and replacing lead pipes. Municipal trenchless pipe rehabilitation can provide a safe barrier between pipes and water. The good news? With Spray In Place Solutions’ (SIPS) revolutionary equipment and techniques, you can accomplish municipal trenchless pipe rehabilitation for a fraction of what you’d spend on a dig-and-replace project.
Can Municipal Pipe Rehabilitation Really Make Lead Pipes Safe?
It might seem like digging and replacing lead pipes is the only foolproof way to protect your community from harm. However, according to the Water Research Foundation, municipal trenchless pipe rehabilitation provides an effective and efficient alternative to total pipe replacement.
Municipal pipe rehabilitation isn’t just a temporary fix. Spray In Place Solutions (SIPS) offers underground pipe rehabilitation services that can be expected to last up to 75 years. Using a proprietary Camera, Clean and Coat process, we line pipes from the inside with a high-build epoxy coating that completely seals out lead and other harmful substances. Our barrier is approved for drinking water and NSF/ANSI-61-certified.
Discover How Spray in Place Solutions (SIPS) Can Solve Your Lead Problem
Spray In Place Solutions (SIPS) uses a state-of-the-art restoration process to return your pipes to like-new condition. Our satisfied clients include American Water, the US Armed Forces, PEPCO, and many others. Check out our gallery of successful projects to get a closer look at our finished work. To get started today, complete our Pipe Lining Questionnaire today and open a conversation with us.