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Homeowners are at Risk for Frozen Pipes

Most homeowners are aware of the seriousness of their plumbing pipes freezing and why that situation can cause serious damage.

However, many homeowners may not understand how to prevent frozen pipes. Encouraging your residents to learn how to winterize their home plumbing system – both inside and out – can pay off, especially since a lot of the winterizing work is made up of simple DIY tricks that shouldn’t take them too long.

Understanding the Risks

Frozen pipes can not only cause minor headaches when your residents are taking a shower or running a dishwasher, but also can burst and potentially cause a lot of water damage. Water damage can be costly to repair and typically requires a professional plumber. Fortunately, the following winterizing tips can help your residents avoid that need altogether.

Where to Begin

Residents should start by looking at the exposed water lines coming into – and running throughout – their home. These can be found in the basement, bathroom and kitchen – anywhere water flows, for example, in a garage or basement. If exposed water lines aren’t insulated, residents can easily buy a few tubes of pipe insulation at the local hardware store and install it at little cost.

If a home’s insulation has not been replaced in a long while, there is a risk of freezing wall pipes. In many cases, this is a job homeowners won’t – and probably can’t – handle themselves and calling a professional would be best.

Exterior walls have pipes that can be at a greater risk for freezing and bursting. Fortunately, there is an easy fix: Having pipes run on a slight drip while the temperature is below freezing could help your residents avoid these issues. It’s a great life hack to help avoid frozen pipes as it keeps water flowing and helps prevent them from freezing.

Heading Outside

When it comes to the water lines that run outside a home, your residents should be conscious of the risks those pose as well. Even something as minor as leaving a water-filled hose outside when cold weather arrives can cause problems. It’s important to shut off all water to outside spigots and flush any remaining water before the temperature drops below freezing. If a resident has an underground sprinkler system, that needs to be flushed out as well.

Of course, winterizing should include more than taking a hard look at a home’s plumbing. There are plenty of other ways residents can make sure their property is ready for harsh winds, frigid temperatures, snow, ice and all the rest. A little winterizing research can go a long way. This can not only help them avoid major issues, but it might save them a bit of money as well.

Contact us to learn more about how the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, can help educate your residents about winterization and their service line responsibilities.


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AMERICA’S WATER INFRASTRUCTURE CRISIS: THE SIX PILLAR SOLUTION

By James L. Good

 

Utility Service Partners

Clean water technologies (filtration and chlorination) are likely the most important public health intervention of the 20th Century.

—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Every day, we habitually turn on a faucet, draw a bath, and flush a toilet with no more thought than we give to breathing or walking. Yet over the vast span of human history that unfolded prior to 1900, these commonplace household activities would have been viewed as miraculous. In fact, water was often as much a threat to human health as an essential ingredient of life.

Before the turn of the last century, water was a primary carrier of infectious diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. In the crowded conditions of a rapidly urbanizing America, this could mean a death sentence for city dwellers. For example, an outbreak of cholera that hit Memphis in September 1873 killed 2,000 out of the 7,000 who were infected, in a city with a population of 40,000.

It’s only been about 100 years since the advent of the chlorination of drinking water and the treatment of raw sewage, which virtually eliminated water as an acute public health threat. This also made possible and desirable the expansion of water and sewer networks, which by 1940 had been extended to 94 percent of urban households. It is no exaggeration that this mostly unknown and unheralded investment in water treatment and networks is what makes modern life as we live it possible.

Sadly, such minor miracles can no longer be taken for granted. The maintenance and improvement of our nation’s water systems[i] have been ignored for so long that we are now reaping the consequences, as these sobering statistics demonstrate:

  • 250,000 – the annual number of water main breaks
  • 7 trillion – the amount in gallons lost through these leaks
  • $2.6 billion – the estimated cost of water lost through leaks
  • $1 trillion – the amount estimated by the American Water Works Association that must be spent on drinking water systems over the next 20 years

Even the most casual followers of news and current events have heard of the lead poisoning that struck Flint, Michigan and its water supply a few years ago. A tragic event; but because of the publicity it received, the importance of addressing the presence of lead in our water systems has moved to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. However, in many ways, the statistics listed above are just as sobering as they point to the deteriorating status of the water systems that we cannot live without.

The magnitude of this crisis is daunting. Fixing it will not be cheap or simple. And there is no single policy, approach, or initiative that will get our nation’s water systems out of this predicament.

What will solve this problem is leadership and a plan that addresses these many challenges comprehensively. Because water systems form an integral part of the built environment and are an entrenched component of it, there are no “do overs.” Instead, getting the water systems we need will require a plan that builds on the systems we have.

The plan that follows consists of Six Pillars. It is based on lessons I’ve learned over the last 25 years of building, running, improving, and thinking about water systems. The emphasis placed on them will vary over time, but they are complementary and must be pursued simultaneously for the plan to succeed. The Six Pillars are:

  1. Education – This pillar is first among equals. Before this crisis can be solved, its dimensions and consequences must be known. Continuous education of and communication to customers, policy makers, the media and other stakeholders is the essential element needed to build the water systems we need.
  2. Data – Water utilities generate terabytes of data daily. Harnessing it generates insights into more effective and efficient ways to operate and improve water infrastructure.
  3. Efficiency – The financial needs of this sector are great, and funds are limited. To close this gap, water utilities need to make the most of every dollar.
  4. Technology – The innovation in processes and systems that can benefit the water sector is unprecedented. Let’s harness them to benefit customers and disseminate innovation rapidly throughout the sector.
  5. Alternative Financing – Local utilities cannot afford to address this crisis alone. They need financial assistance from all levels of government as well as the private sector through alternative contracting approaches such as Public Private Partnerships (P3s) and concessions.
  6. Local Investment – Utilities are largely funded through customer rates. Even with third-party assistance, the cost of solving this crisis will fall primarily on the backs of local ratepayers. Let’s make sure the first five pillars are addressed before any more demands are put on utility customers.

Every participant in the water sector has an important role to play in advancing one or more of these Pillars. That includes the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, which is uniquely positioned to make an impact in each of these areas. For example, on education, the Company is sponsoring this series of articles and using its channels to communicate our nation’s water infrastructure crisis to audiences who may have little knowledge of its magnitude. Increasing the general public’s awareness of this crisis and its solutions is foundational to building a constituency that demands it be addressed.

Through a series of articles, I will be examining each of the Six Pillars, discuss their importance and how HomeServe products and services are being used by water utility customers to help solve our nation’s water infrastructure crisis.

Our civilization literally depends on it.

[i] In this article, unless the context indicates otherwise, “water” denotes both water and sewer.


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Day Without Water

Turning on a spigot is something we do several times a day – whether to brush our teeth, wash dishes or cook. It’s not only routine, it’s something we don’t think about.

But what if you turned on a spigot and there was no water? Or perhaps worse, the water was contaminated? You might think that’s a problem only in developing countries, but, as the Flint, Mich., water crisis shows, access to clean drinking water even can impact our fellow Americans.

In a still slowly unfolding crisis, Flint residents learned the water they used to wash, drink and cook was contaminated with lead in January 2016. The crisis began in April 2014, when the city switched its water source to the Flint River, and that water, which hadn’t been treated with an anti-corrosion agent, leached lead from the aging water infrastructure, leading to unsafe lead levels and an outbreak of the bacteria-borne Legionnaire’s Disease.

America has a water infrastructure problem – the American Society of Civil Engineers gave drinking water infrastructure a grade of “D” on this year’s Infrastructure Report Card. Lead water pipes were banned more than 30 years ago, but as many as 10 million remain in service in America’s aging water infrastructure. Flint, for example, has pledged to replace 30,000 such pipes in its own infrastructure.

Flint may be the most famous case, but cities throughout the country have dealt with water contamination, including Washington, D.C.; Durham and Greenville, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; and Jackson, Miss.

Some water systems are more than 100 years old – Atlanta’s system was designed in 1875 and its water treatment plant was built in 1893. In the District of Columbia, some pipes date back to the Civil War.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power faces a $1.3 billion bill to replace more than 400 miles of water lines, some of which are 80 years old. In Detroit, 3,400 miles of water lines in the city and suburbs need to be replaced at a cost of $1.2 million per mile. Aging infrastructure loses 6 billion gallons of water each day across the county, equaling 2 trillion gallons a year, according to the American Water Works Association.

Many Americans are one crisis away from being without water – which is why the National League of City Service Line Warranty Program supports the educational efforts of the Value of Water Campaign’s Imagine a Day Without Water. Imagine a Day Without Water is being held today and brings attention to our aging and underfunded national water system.

And the system is underfunded. In 1977, system investment accounted for 63 percent of total water spending. However, in 2014, investment was 9 percent of total spending – one-seventh of what it was 40 years ago, even as much of the national system is at end of its useful life.

American citizens understand the urgency of repairing our national water system – 82 percent agree that water infrastructure needs to be a top priority.,  [the Service Line Warranty Program or HomeServe] encourages community leaders, elected officials and water utilities to work together to address the desperate need for water infrastructure improvements.

Watch as Justin Steinbugl, SLWP Business Development Specialist, discusses his experience without water following Hurricane Ivan, and Travis Levers, Digital Marketing, discusses water conservation tips to incorporate during shortages.

Sources:

http://Imagineadaywithoutwater.org

http://time.com/4634937/flint-water-crisis-criminal-charges-bottled-water/

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/us/regulatory-gaps-leave-unsafe-lead-levels-in-water-nationwide.html

https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

http://www.npr.org/2014/10/29/359875321/as-infrastructure-crumbles-trillions-of-gallons-of-water-lost

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/americas-aging-water-infrastructure-raises-safety-concerns/

http://graphics.latimes.com/la-aging-water-infrastructure/

http://michiganradio.org/post/advocates-call-feds-invest-detroits-water-infrastructure

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/economy-budget/340268-aging-water-infrastructure-could-represent-a-looming-fiscal


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Aging in Place

Home Maintenance is a key factor for aging Americans wishing to remain in their own homes

According to U.S. Census data, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to rise 35 percent from 2010 to 2020, and a growing trend for this population is “aging in place.” A comprehensive study on this subject by AARP explains,

this means to grow old in the home where one raised children or in another non-institutional setting in the community. During a lifetime, people develop connections to place and form relationships with neighbors, doctors, hairdressers and shopkeepers. They become intimately familiar with the route to downtown, the rhythm of summer concerts at the band shell park, the best places to get a coveted burger and personalized greeting. These associations, of value to both the individual and the community, cannot be quickly or easily replicated in a new environment. In essence, they can play a pivotal role in successful aging.”

A group of Georgia Institute of technology researchers conducted a comprehensive study of how aging affects one’s ability to perform home maintenance tasks. This study explored the issues that older adults have with maintaining their home and issues that they might foresee in performing those tasks in the future. The researchers also investigated the services, products, technologies, and remodeling options older adults considered or used that could help them.

There were 44 participants between the ages of 66 and 85 and they conducted 11 group interview sessions. They were asked to fill out a Background Questionnaire and Technology Experience Questionnaire at home and return them to the experimenter at the time of the interview.

From the interview responses, the researchers developed a list of the most difficult home maintenance activities. These included cleaning, outdoor, home upkeep, repair, indoor update/remodel, movement within the home (specific to performing maintenance tasks), and other.  The vast majority of the commentary related to these difficult categories.

The total number of comments made by participants that were related to difficult home maintenance tasks was 316; nearly 70% were cleaning-related or outdoor-related. Difficult tasks categorized as cleaning included vacuuming, tidying, changing bed linens, washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning the toilet, taking out the garbage, and general cleaning. Outdoor tasks included mowing the lawn, painting the outside of the home, cleaning the gutters, or general outdoor tasks.

An additional 16% of the difficult tasks mentioned were categorized as home upkeep. This category of tasks included HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) maintenance (e.g., changing or replacing the furnace filter), pest control, replacing light bulbs, roof replacement, and maintenance of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

The study concludes that:

“These results present opportunities for interventions that can help older adults remain independent in their homes longer. By understanding the nature of home maintenance problems older adults encounter while aging in place, as well as their solutions for managing difficult home maintenance tasks, interventions and redesign efforts can be more effective and address the areas of greatest need. To that end, home service providers, technology developers, home designers, and senior agencies can enable aging in place.”

Home warranty companies provide home services that can address several important aspects of safely aging in place:

Proactive attention to a problem – a person with a plan is more apt to call for service on a small problem before the issue becomes worse, and potentially dangerous. Once on-site contractors can check other systems to ensure there are no additional issues and if any are discovered they can be fixed immediately.

Expeditious response – while it may take days for a contractor from the phone book to arrive, a home protection plan company has a defined and short response time

Careful screening/vetting – home protection plans provide consumers access to fully-vetted, licensed and insured local contractors.  This dramatically reduces the risk related to allowing a stranger into one’s home, particularly for elderly people living alone.

The National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program (SLWP), administered by USP, a HomeServe company, was conceived in partnership with the National League of Cities to educate property owners about their service line responsibilities and to help residents avoid the out-of-pocket expense for unanticipated and potentially costly service line repairs and replacements. The NLC SLWP can bring home repair programs backed by world class service to your residents. Learn more about how a partnership can benefit your municipality at http://www.utilitysp.net.


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World Class Contractors – Key to an Exceptional Customer Experience

The National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program (SLWP), administered by USP, a HomeServe company, was conceived in partnership with the National League of Cities to educate property owners about their service line responsibilities and to help residents avoid the out-of-pocket expense for unanticipated and potentially costly service line repairs and replacements.

One of the most important benefits of the NLC SLWP is access to our exceptional local contractor network whenever an emergency arises. While it can take days for a contractor from the phone book to arrive, a Program customer receives a call back from a qualified, fully-vetted, licensed and insured contractor within one hour to agree upon a convenient time for the contractor to arrive at their home to execute the repair.  The customer also receives an email/text verification of who is coming (including a picture of the technician).

HomeServe assists homeowners with over 450,000 emergency repair jobs each year, covering plumbing, HVAC, electrical and gas. To accomplish this, we have a mix of both directly employed service technicians and a network of over 1,000 contractors across the country to meet the demands of our 3 million customers. It is therefore our job to take the customer’s call, identify the nature of their problem, confirm coverage and deploy the job to a HomeServe technician or network contractor as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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Hear from our Director, Repair Management about our philosophy for servicing customers with repair emergencies.

Rigorous vetting process ensures quality and protects consumers

The NLC SLWP is very selective when recruiting contractors to be part of its network. In fact, less than 10% of all contractors researched and interviewed are actually selected to become network contractors. The first step in the process involves researching contractors that meet specific criteria, including: A BBB rating of A or higher; positive feedback of 90% or better by previous customers; and the ability to provide 24/7 emergency service.

Once a contractor meets our strict research criteria, a formal interview is conducted to determine if they have the expertise and equipment to perform the type of work that is required and to ensure they meet our contractor compliance requirements, including:

  • Valid and active licensing, bonding and liability, workers compensation and motor vehicle insurance
  • Certification by the contractor that their employees are legally able to work in the U.S.
  • Drug screening and state background checks
  • References from previous jobs they have completed for residential customers
  • Willingness to sign an agreement with HomeServe that stipulates performance standards, code of conduct and more

Having access to a network of fully-vetted, licensed contractors can protect consumers from potentially expensive problems.  According to the Better Business Bureau there are many financial risks of using unlicensed contractors including:

  • Quality – Acquiring a license ensures at least a minimal level of competence in that field.
  • Property values – Unlicensed contractors may fail to obtain permits which can impact the value of the property and failing to disclose information could lead to liability of the seller. In addition, since an unlicensed contractor rarely has liability insurance or a bond, if any work needs to be re-done, the burden falls on the homeowner.
  • Injury – If the contractor does not carry workers compensation insurance, the homeowner who hires that contractor becomes the “employer”, and then is responsible for injuries occurring on the property.
  • Damage to third parties – If a contractor is unlicensed and causes damage to a neighboring property or person, the homeowner may be held responsible for the contractor’s actions.

 

Technology increases efficiency and enhances the experience

The NLC SLWP utilizes a mobile field service management platform which enables contractors and their technicians easily accept jobs, schedule them with the customer and provide real-time status updates so that our Operations team can monitor progress from our Command Center. The application also alerts the customer each step of the way through SMS text messaging.

For example, when the job is scheduled, the customer receives a text message with the appointment date and time which can be saved to the calendar on their smart phone. When the technician is on their way to the customer’s home, they can simply press the “On My Way” button which sends a text to the customer with a link to a web site where the location of the technician and their estimated time of arrival can be tracked. The customer can also call the technician or text them if there is something they may need to know before getting on site.

After completing the job, the technician can simply click “Appointment Complete” which sends another text message to the customer to complete a one question survey on the technician’s performance. The results of implementing this mobile solution have been significant. Almost 80% of all jobs are now routing through the platform which has reduced the time to deploy a job by almost 20 seconds, both improving the customer experience and saving over $300k annually in agent handle time

Customers are also much happier which has been clearly seen in their survey scores and written feedback. We are pleased that this industry leading solution has revolutionized the home emergency repair experience in a way that matches the ever-increasing expectations of our customers.

The NLC SLWP can bring home repair programs backed by world-class service to your residents. Learn more about how a partnership can benefit your municipality at http://www.utilitysp.net.


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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