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Local View: Replace lead service lines in Duluth — then what?

From the column: "If you have lead pipes leading to your home or in your home (as many do), you may be exposed to unsafe levels of lead because, as we all know, there is no safe level of lead consumption."

City of Duluth looks to replace lead residential water supply lines.
Eric Shaffer holds a piece of lead pipe on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at City Hall in Duluth. The coloration is corrosion on the outer layer of the pipe.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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Most people can agree that their health, and that of their family, is extremely important. The city of Duluth’s lead problem, which has been in the news lately (“ Duluth prepares to replace lead water lines in East Hillside ,” Sept. 22), is an example of a threat to public health. It’s time we adopt permanent solutions.

According to the White House , more than 9 million homes and 400,000 schools in the United States have lead water pipes. There are many in Duluth and other communities throughout Minnesota.

The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that no amount of lead in your body is safe. It is most dangerous for infants and children, and the most significant risk is to cognitive development. Beyond the brain, lead is bad for your teeth, bones, blood, and heart. You get it: It’s just plain bad.

We could get angry at the government and the water utility, but the “lead problem” is not their fault. Duluth, like elsewhere, has lead service lines in its system (and you may have lead pipes in your home) because when the city was built, those lines were the safest and most efficient for conveying water. They weren’t used because utilities or governments were reckless with your health.

Getting water to homes and businesses was among the most important inventions of all time. But science and materials have evolved. Today, PVC and copper provide safer mainline delivery pipes from the water utility to your home.

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Duluth city leaders have been working to fix its aging water system for decades. In October, Duluth residents were notified through letters about the possibility of lead-contaminated water. This was the most recent time Duluth residents have been notified of lead contamination, but it certainly wasn’t the first.

The city has announced plans to replace as many lead service lines as possible in the coming years, and these plans should be applauded because they promise the delivery of lead-free drinking water.

Getting lead-free drinking water to your curb is only a partial solution, however. Corrosion can also occur and lead leaching can also happen when the water hits the aging pipes from your curb to your home or business, or within your home or business. In other words, the lead problem continues to exist as the drinking water moves from your curb (your mainline) to your tap.

If you have lead pipes leading to your home or in your home (as many do), you may be exposed to unsafe levels of lead because, as we all know, there is no safe level of lead consumption. We call this the “final mile” lead problem, and there are only three ways to address it effectively.

One is to require all home and business owners, school districts, hospitals, and landlords to replace their lead pipes. This is invasive, expensive, and inefficient. It is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Two is filtering your water. Most people forget to take out the trash; how can we expect them to remember to change their water filters?

And three is using a corrosion-mitigating product on lead pipes like my company’s Folmar Pipe Protection . As part of the final step of the treatment process, such products can cost as little as around one penny per user per day — to deliver clean, lead-free drinking water to the tap. It’s time we adopt such products in every drinking water system in America that still has lead pipes, including in Duluth.

The city government and water utilities have a solid plan to replace Duluth’s lead service lines. Still, until the pipes leading to and within your home, schools, hospitals, and businesses can also be replaced, lead corrosion in aging pipes can continue to exist. This “final mile” lead problem can be addressed with technology.

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Duluth’s leaders and water-utility managers should implement a thorough plan to protect the public from lead in the city’s drinking water — all the way to the tap.

Patrick Rosenstiel is CEO of GreatWaterTech ( greatwatertech.com ), a St. Paul-based company focused on water treatment solutions.

Patrick Rosenstiel.png
Patrick Rosenstiel

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