University of Michigan’s Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law Published “Got Lead in Your Water? The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law May Be Poised to Help”

Humans have no known safe level of exposure to lead. Blood lead levels have devastating consequences, especially for children, affecting their brain development and almost every organ in their bodies. Various government organizations have enacted measures to combat lead contamination in drinking water and its dangerous human health consequences by replacing lead service lines. At the federal level, the Lead and Copper Rule has set deadlines for identifying lead lines and taking remedial action over extended periods of time. At the state level, governments have programs to fund the replacement of lead service lines in their communities, but these funds often fall short of their needs. While these efforts have reduced the problem of lead contamination in drinking water, many of the remaining lead service lines in the U.S. are found buried under aging cities, often with low-income populations.  Litigation brought by public interest groups has spurred faster replacement, but this has only been deployed in a handful of cities.  The greater leverage point is increased federal funding to eradicate the problem. In 2021, the U.S. Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed by President Biden. It included a historically large increase in supplemental funds for the replacement of lead service lines over five years. In early 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a campaign to get lead out of water and accelerate the pace of the solutions. 

Seven out of the top ten U.S. states with the most lead service lines are Great Lakes states. Because the Great Lakes are ringed by cities with a high concentration of lead service lines for drinking water and tend to have high poverty rates, we focused research on this region to explore the national issue of identifying and replacing lead service lines to protect drinking water quality.

Our law review article examines the:

  • scope of the problem of replacing lead service lines in states in the Great Lakes region,
  • cost estimates of financing their replacement,
  • significant gap between federal funding and estimated costs, and
  • decisions states need to make now to access and effectively spend federal money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to remove lead from the water of the nation’s disadvantaged communities.

*Update* At the end of 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements that require all lead pipes to be removed within 10 years of the compliance date. This is a significant change from current policy.

Read the research:

Andrian Lee and Melissa Scanlan, Got Lead in Your Water? The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law May Be Poised to Help 13.1 Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law 142 (2023).