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Indiana is leading the charge in locating lead service lines, but more research is still needed

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced in early April that the remaining funds from the $15 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be allocated to states based on the greatest needs after a report found that the first round of funding left states with the most lead service lines behind. 

Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized Biden’s administration’s commitment to supporting the replacement of all lead pipes within 10 years. 

Research is the main component of locating lead service lines and has proven to be complicated. The Natural Resources Defense Council published a report last year that determined the EPA’s published allotments for the first round of funding wasn’t equitable and left states like Illinois, Michigan and Missouri receiving significantly less per line than other states. 

Some states were receiving an estimated $151 per lead service line, while other states were receiving an estimated $10,000 per lead service line. Lead pipes are found in every state but are most prominent in the Midwest and Texas, according to NRDC. As states continue to identify the amount of lead pipes, the total number will increase and so may the price. 

However, the lack of data is still concerning, according to NRDC. When the report was published in 2021, only 10 states — including Indiana — had an estimate on the number of lead pipes throughout the state, while a little less than half didn’t have estimates at all, and other states were still completing surveys. NRDC estimated the total number of lead pipes in the United States to be more than 6 million. Based on new research, the EPA estimates that number to be closer to 9.2 million. 

The exact number of lead pipes is still unknown. Indiana, however, has played a significant role in helping the nation identify holes in research when it comes to lead service lines. Indiana is only one of two states to identify partial lead service lines, or pipes made from lead with connections to other materials such as plastic and copper. Citizens Energy Group has already begun replacing lines in some Indianapolis neighborhoods. NRDC expressed “significant concerns” that many other states and utilities have not tracked partial LSLs and millions may remain in the ground uncounted. 

One notable change is that Florida has the most lead service lines in the nation and reported the number is actually 5x more than original estimates. 

Children, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color experience the greatest burden from lead exposure, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. The Indiana Advisory Committee reported to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that lead exposure was becoming a civil rights issue in Indiana and impacting children of color the most. 

“Indiana has a troubling history with caring for and protecting non-white residents from lead poisoning,” the report said. 

Records of lead service lines have helped Citizens positively identify and have ideas where lead service lines may be located, Dan Moran, director of water quality system control and planning at Citizens said. 

“Drinking water won’t be safe until the country pulls the millions of lead pipes out of the ground found in every state,” said Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director for health at NRDC in a news release. “President Biden’s American Jobs Plan is a historic opportunity to fix the nation’s lead pipe crisis. Removing lead pipes will improve health and create jobs, starting in low-income communities and communities of color with the highest rates of lead exposure.” 

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847 or by email jaydenk@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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