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Getting the Lead Out: Utilities and Homeowners Must Both Have Skin in the Game to Protect Public Safety

June is National Safety Month, a time when we should consider how to promote safety in our homes and workplaces.  There have been many articles and stories in the news covering the lead issue, here we present a few highlights along with some stories from cities who are taking action.

According to the EPA, approximately 10 million US homes and buildings utilize service lines containing lead. Cities approach the situation in a variety of ways, but private-side water service lines and interior plumbing fixtures are a significant part of the problem. And those are the homeowner’s responsibility.

The City of Flint, Michigan has certainly drawn significant attention to the issue of lead in drinking water.  The Flint lead problem arose from the City’s money-saving measure of utilizing the Flint River as a water source instead of the Detroit water supply, which exposed all who drank the water from April 2014 to October 2015 to dangerous levels of lead. However, aside from Flint, lead in drinking water is a problem throughout the United States.

Potential health issues

According to the Mayo Clinic, lead can build up in the body over a series of months or years, eventually becoming toxic. Even trace amounts of lead can be dangerous to health. Children under 6 years of age are the most vulnerable because they are still developing critical brain and bodily functions. Symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:

  • Learning issues
  • Developmental delays
  • Lower IQ and Hyperactivity
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Irritability and fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Hearing loss
  • Slowed growth
  • Anemia

In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

According to the EPA, “pregnant women are also at risk because lead is stored along with calcium in bones. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium and is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also cross the placental barrier exposing the fetus the lead.  This can result in serious effects to the mother and her developing fetus, including reduced fetal growth and premature birth.”

Because of its danger to children, lead is a growing concern in school drinking water.  According to Simple Water, “testing of water in public schools all across the nation are revealing unhealthy lead levels, as a result of corrosion due to aging infrastructure. Old lead service pipes, fixtures, and solder can undergo chemical reactions with acidic or low-mineral level water.” This reaction results in lead dissolving and entering the drinking water supply.

The State of California recently announced that public schools would have new resources available for testing water fountains for lead and other harmful water contaminants. Additionally, data obtained from the EPA by CNBC reveals that only nine states currently report lead levels that don’t violate drinking water standards (Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas). Within the last three years, a total of 41 states had ALEs (Action Level Exceedances) of lead, meaning these states possess levels that violate drinking water standards.

The EPA continues to be focused on reducing lead exposure for children.  According to Thomas Burke, Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, “EPA is taking a coordinated, public health approach to dealing with lead so we can continue our progress in reducing lead exposures. This approach outlines a common set of public health principles, listed below, that will guide the Agency’s work related to lead:

  • There is no known threshold for the effects of lead.
  • The best way to reduce a child’s exposure to lead is to address all potential sources of exposure.
  • Reducing and minimizing sources of lead exposure is a long-term goal.
  • Children’s vulnerability to lead exposure through any source varies with their age.
  • When evaluating new actions, EPA uses a common set of science-based analytical tools to measure the impacts on children’s and adults’ blood lead levels and health.
  • While the public health goal is to eliminate exposure, national sampling of blood lead levels helps to track progress and identify children and communities at highest risk for effects.”

Regulation

The EPA’s 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act specifies maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs) for drinking water contaminants. The MCLG designates the maximum allowable contaminant level before a negative health effect becomes likely. Lead’s MCLG is zero.

More recent legislation, the Lead and Copper Rule, became effective on December 7, 1992. This rule can trigger treatment requirements when lead and/or copper in drinking water exceed an “Action Level” of 15 ug/L (ppb) for lead. All community and non-transient non-community water systems are required to sample for lead and copper.

Communications from utility to consumers is crucial

Water utilities are facing a new communications challenge related to lead in drinking water. According to an AWWA publication, “in the near future, utilities may be encouraged and even required to increase their communications efforts to better protect their customers from lead exposure at the tap.”

AWWA hosted an event during Drinking Water Week on May 3, 2016 in Washington DC, where more than 100 water utility leaders from throughout the United States and Canada shared strategies for removing the lead service lines that connect millions of older homes to water mains. Water leaders discussed how a collaborative approach among utilities, customers, government and other stakeholders is key to replacement plans. Many utilities shared strategies such as those from Cincinnati Water Works and Boston Water.

The Cincinnati Water Works has expanded its outreach on lead, including the addition of a new lead website, a lead hotline, social media outreach, direct letters to more than 20,000 customers, a speaker’s bureau and the distribution of pitcher filters to homes thought to be at higher risk. Utility data show about 17 percent of Cincinnati’s service lines that lead to homes are made of lead. It was a popular building material when early systems were constructed.

Boston Water has an online database that allows homeowners to search by address to determine if their property has a lead service line. Boston Water also offers a credit of up to $2,000 ad interest-free loans to assist homeowners interested in remove the portion of lead pipe on private property.

Lead in household water supply

Corrosion of lead-containing household plumbing is the main cause of lead in drinking water. Homeowners are responsible for the water distribution lines on their property as well as any interior plumbing fixtures.  Sources of lead can include lead service lines or goosenecks on these lines, lead solder on copper pipes and brass faucets and plumbing fixtures.  Exposure can be reduced by:

  • Testing water from the tap with certified lab kits
  • Running water from the tap for two minutes to flush lead sediments from water
  • Removing any lead fixtures and determining if there is a lead service line leading to the home

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe Company, is a leading provider of utility and city-sponsored home repair solutions. For more than a decade, we have been protecting homeowners against the expense and inconvenience of water, sewer, electrical, heating, cooling and other home emergencies by providing affordable coverage, and a quality service. We are a Better Business Bureau Accredited Business – serving more than three million homeowners in North America. Our customer focus and best-in-class repair plans drive positive brand attribution to our numerous municipal, utility and association partners. Contact us to learn more about how a partnership can benefit your city.

 

Sources:

http://www.simplewater.us/simplewater-blog/2017/2/1/lead-in-public-school-water

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lead-poisoning/home/ovc-20275050

https://www.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead

https://www.epa.gov/lead/public-health-approach-addressing-lead

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/01/19/michigan-flint-water-contamination/78996052/

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/americas-water-crisis-goes-beyond-flint-michigan.html

http://www.awwa.org/Portals/0/files/resources/publicaffairs/pdfs/FINALeadServiceLineCommGuide.pdf

https://www.awwa.org/resources-tools/water-knowledge/lead.aspx


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Follansbee, WV – And Many Other Cities in the U.S.

The story of Follansbee begins in 1699 with French explorers who claimed the Ohio River valley and developed trade with many native tribes, including the Mingo IndiaFollansbeens who occupied a small village known as the “Old Mingo Bottom” located on the land where Follansbee is today. A 1920 Herald Star article, reporting on the annual city Jubilee, described Follansbee as “The Little Town That Does Big Things.”

This “little town”, like many older cities and towns in the U.S., struggles with a big problem – aging infrastructure. A recent report in the news indicated that Follansbee, West Virginia; a city of about 2,900, has over 500 water main breaks every year. You may be surprised to learn that this is by no means an experience isolated to Follansbee.

According to watermainbreaksclock.com, every day, 850 water main breaks occur in North America at a total annual repair cost of over $3 billion. Corrosion, leaks and breaks in old-technology pipe materials are often the culprit. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been giving the U.S. infrastructure a failing grade for some time now, with its most recent assessment garnering a lackluster D+. The report goes on to state what many City officials already know, “especially in the country’s older cities, much of the drinking water infrastructure is old and in need of replacement. Failures in drinking water infrastructure can result in water disruptions, impediments to emergency response, and damage to other types of infrastructure.”

The ASCE’s State report card for West Virginia lists the 20 year dollar amount at $1billion in needed investment to the State’s water systems. And the West Virginia Business and Industry Council acknowledges the “need for investment in water and wastewater infrastructure continues to far outpace the amount of funding that is available at all levels of government.”

While State and Federal funding will attempt to address primary infrastructure, private water and sewer lines – those on resident’s properties – are subjected to the same elements that cause city lines to fail. When these lines break or leak, they can be very expensive to repair – as much as $3,000 or more. And most Americans don’t have that kind of savings in the bank – so an unexpected service line repair cost can be hard on their budgets.

That’s why cities such as Follansbee, West Virginia, along with 30 other cities in West Virginia and over 400 other cities across North America, decided to introduce the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program to their residents. The program, offered at no cost to the city, educates residents about their service line responsibilities while providing an affordable solution to cover the potential cost of repairs.

“It made sense to bring this program to our community,” said John DeStefano, City Manager. “It raises awareness about homeowner responsibility for private service lines and provides them with a solution if they want to participate.”

Still, some city officials wonder why they should be in the business of working with a private company. “When faced with a failed water or sewer service line, few citizens have the desire or experience to deal with a contractor for what might be a very large expense,” said Jim Hunt, Past President of the NLC and current advisor to the NLC Program.  “It makes sense for the city to assist by insuring that the contractor is licensed and insured and gets the job done right.”

“We wanted to make sure that our citizens had access to a reputable provider, “said John DeStefano, City Manager. “It has been well-received in our community”.


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CEO’s Corner

If you have ever received a piece of mail, or an email, describing the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, you have likely read about the exceptionally high customer satisfaction rating we maintain. From a city official’s perspective, that’s important, because you have entrusted us, as administrators of the Program, with your brand. It is our responsibility to exercise proper stewardship over the use of your city’s name to ensure it continues to convey trust to your residents.

That is one of the reasons why we are obsessed with delivering exceptional customer service. Each month, all of our senior managers, including me, meet to make sure we are listening to the voice of the customer, to ensure that our service delivery is well aligned with our customer and brand promise: to build peace of mind within each of our partner communities by freeing customers, your residents, from the worry that comes with needed service line repairs.

But with thousands of calls coming in, we needed to invest in cutting-edge technology to make sure we could hear clearly. So, we implemented a voice analytics software that provides the ability to analyze speech by measuring not just words, but other clues that shed light on the quality of the customer experience. Criteria such as silence, tone and volume are analyzed by the software alongside key words and phrases. This has revolutionized the process of quality assurance, rather than being concerned over the length of the call, we have now created a customer experience scorecard that instead is looking for empathy, tone and professionalism, emphasizing attention to customer needs.

To complement the insight provided by call analytics, we also implemented the automated Customer Survey application. This interactive web-based solution provides real-time feedback that gives our team actionable insight into all areas of the business. This is another way we keep a finger on the pulse of our customer and your resident’s feedback on the program.

One of our core values is to put the customer at the heart of everything we do, and because of that, we have a 98% customer satisfaction rating. But this is about more than numbers or a plaque hanging on the wall, this is something we live and breathe across our business every single day, and is part of our commitment to you, our city partners, and to the NLC.

Tom Rusin

 


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Looking Back at 2016

2016 saw tremendous and exciting activity for the NLC Service Line Warranty Program! We welcomed 71 new city partners in the U.S., bringing our total to over 400 across North America. We now serve nearly 11 million municipal households, and performed a repair or replacement every 76 seconds nationwide last year.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program is pleased to serve cities of all sizes, from Phoenix, AZ, a partner since 2012 with more than half a million households to Vergas, Minnesota, one of our newest partners, with 152 households.

Did you know? 

A survey of customers of the NLC Service Line Warranty Program said they feel better prepared for a water or sewer line emergency:

  • More than 70% said they could not afford a water or sewer line repair without the program
  • More than 90% said they have trust in the program because of the partnership with their city

City leaders agree:

Steven Wright, Chief Information Officer, City of Mesa, Arizona

“We have worked with SLWA for three years and have found the company to be responsive and focused on providing quality services to our residents.”

Todd Gloria, City Councilman, City of San Diego, California

“The city has fully vetted this organization and this program and we’ve conducted due diligence. SLWA’s program is endorsed by the National League of Cities, multiple state municipal leagues and hundreds of municipalities. SLWA’s been a member of the BBB since 2003 and they are very proud of their exemplary record.”

We hope you will join us!

Read more city and resident testimonials and see who else is participating.


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Failing the Grade

The recent release of the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card showed no improvement in the overall grade for the nation’s infrastructure, holding steady at D+ overall, compared to the last report issued in 2013. The ASCE defines a “D” grade as one that finds “the infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure.”

Twenty-Eight civil engineers from across the country volunteer their time to work with the ASCE Infrastructure Initiatives staff to review data and consult with technical and industry experts to assign the grade. Eight criteria are used to evaluate infrastructure, including the capacity for such infrastructure to keep pace with future growth; the capacity of planned funding to meet future needs and the impact the current state could have on public safety.

“We have been in a mass, collective state of denial about how important these systems are” – Casey Dinges, Sr. Managing Director, ACSE (call out)

In a further study examining the impact of the widening gap between the failing condition of the nation’s infrastructure and the funding needed to improve it, losses were quantified in ways that go beyond the dollar figures needed to fund the improvements:

  • $3.9 trillion in losses to the U.S. GDP by 2025
  • $7 trillion in lost business sales by 2025
  • 5 million lost American jobs in 2025

And to bring the dollars home on a more personal level, it is estimated that around $3,400 in disposable income is lost annually, per family, due to things like poor roads, traffic congestion, flooding and power outages.

On top of these expenses, the private infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, serving families’ homes, have been subjected to the same elements that are causing our nation’s infrastructure to fail. When a private water or sewer line breaks, it can bring a repair bill that is several thousands of dollars.

The National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, Inc., offers homeowners an affordable protection plan through partnerships with cities – at no cost to the city.

Learn how to bring this valuable NLC program to your city today.


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National League of Cities Service Line Program: Helping Municipal Infrastructure

The National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program helps residents of partner municipalities repair or replace thousands of water and sewer laterals every year. The Program has helped more than 140,000 residents in cities and towns around the U.S. save more than $90 million in repair expenses.  The Program is also dedicated to helping protect the water systems that are vital to communities while educating both homeowners and municipal leaders about ways to improve sustainability.

In our previous issue, we highlighted a report published by the NLC Center for Research and Innovation that discusses ways in which municipalities can take advantage of our natural resources to help reinforce our nation’s infrastructure. The initiative, known as Green Infrastructure, uses nature’s design and integrates the existing ecosystem into a city’s urban environment.

In the January 23rd issue of Governing.com, the idea of urban parks is presented as an interesting tie-in to these efforts. With nearly 80% of Americans living in urban environments, and “a new focus on environmental resilience to flooding…driving city planners to more strongly consider “mixed-use” infrastructure”,  the report makes a compelling argument for the important role urban parks play, “urban parks are not luxuries; they are essential infrastructure for 21st century cities”.

Mayors in many cities recognize the reciprocal value of an urban park. As these green spaces improve the quality of life for residents, property values increase, leading to greater investment in the community. An article published by the University of Washington, College of the Environment, cites that “homes that are adjacent to naturalistic parks and open spaces are valued at 8-20% higher than comparable properties”.  And a briefing paper published by the American Planning Association lists several cities where these statistics play out.

Understanding the value of parks, not only to community and property values, but also how it supports water infrastructure management, Atlanta embarked on an impressive project in the historic Fourth Ward Park and Reservoir. The park, featuring a water-retention pond designed to help mitigate flooding, includes a 22-mile network of parks and trails connecting 45 neighborhoods. Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management saved $16 million by choosing this option over “tunneling and installing a single-use network of pipes.”

Jaime Matyas, President and CEO, Student Conservation Association, outlines many other benefits of public parks in a guest post at NLC.org, including one of great value that is not as easily quantified, when she suggests that “enhancing our nation’s parks and ensuring that their upkeep benefits everyone can become a point of community and national unification.”