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Detroit Local NewsMore than 5,800 lead service lines replaced in Detroit since 2018, at...

More than 5,800 lead service lines replaced in Detroit since 2018, at least 5,000 more to be replaced this year

Detroit, Michigan – Last week on April 23, Gary Brown, the Director of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, was in Washington D.C. with other national figures to discuss the fast-tracking of lead pipe replacement in cities. Detroit is at the forefront of this effort, having replaced over 5,800 lead service lines since 2018 and planning to replace at least 5,000 more this year. The meeting coincided with the White House Water Summit, where mayors from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit committed to the new Great Lakes Lead Pipes Partnership announced by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

This partnership aims to tackle the significant lead issues in the Great Lakes’ largest cities by speeding up the replacement of lead service lines. It promises enhanced cooperation between city mayors and water authorities to overcome common obstacles, share emerging effective strategies, and transfer successful approaches between cities.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are about 9.2 million lead service lines across the country. A significant number of these, around 555,000, are found just in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit.

Gary Brown, the Director of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, was in Washington D.C. with other national figures to discuss the fast-tracking of lead pipe replacement in cities
Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) Director Gary Brown joined other national leaders in Washington D.C. to talk about how cities are accelerating lead service line replacement, credit: City of Detroit

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“Chicago has more lead service lines than any city in the United States, with many concentrated in neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment and neglect,” said Mayor Johnson of Chicago. “Through direct exchanges with counterparts in other Great Lakes big cities, the Great Lakes Lead Pipes Partnership will empower Chicago further with proven strategies to reverse these historic trends and accelerate lead service line replacement in the neighborhoods that need it most.”

“Milwaukee is making meaningful strides in expediting lead service line replacement and promoting equity,” said Mayor Johnson of Milwaukee, Co-Chair of the Cities Initiative’s Mayors Commission on Water Equity. “The Great Lakes Lead Pipes Partnership will enable us to showcase this progress across the region, as well as learn new ideas for improving our program from cities facing similar challenges.”

“In Detroit, we increased our contractor capacity and added employee crews to move from replacing 700 lead service lines per year to more than 5,000 this year with no impact on water rates thanks to state and federal funding,” said Mayor Duggan of Detroit. “The combined effort to deliver safe, affordable drinking water is getting the lead out at 200 houses per week. The Great Lakes Lead Pipes Partnership is the ideal coalition to help us sustain this incredible pace and secure additional funding from the federal government to remove 80,000 lead lines as fast as possible.”

Big cities around the Great Lakes are making significant strides in improving the speed and fairness of their lead pipe replacement efforts. For example, Chicago has secured a $336 million loan from the EPA to replace 30,000 lead pipes over the next three years. Milwaukee has set an ambitious goal to replace its lead service lines within 20 years and has started an Equity Prioritization Plan to ensure the process is fair.

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Meanwhile, Detroit is using $100 million from various sources to replace 15,000 lead service lines over two years, implementing a plan that assesses needs neighborhood by neighborhood, considering socioeconomic factors. These efforts are coordinated through the Great Lakes Lead Pipes Partnership, a mayor-led initiative that aims to build on these achievements and continue reducing lead exposure from drinking water.

Lead is a neurotoxin with no safe exposure level, known to cause developmental delays, cardiovascular issues, and other severe health problems. The societal and economic impacts of lead exposure are profound, especially in underserved communities, posing high risks and significant costs to health systems.