Pipeline testing

Leaking water pipes.

It's likely too late for the kids in Flint, Michigan who drank lead-poisoned water, but the city plans to replace 18,000 underground pipes that were involved in bringing the water to the city.

A settlement approved by a federal judge Tuesday requires the state to replace the lead and galvanized water service lines by 2020, at a cost of nearly $100 million, the Washington Post reported today.

Most of the money comes from the state, while $30 million will come from the federal government.

“For the first time, there will be an enforceable commitment to get the lead pipes out of the ground," said Dimple Chaudhary, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the environmental and civil rights groups behind the lawsuit. "The people of Flint are owed at least this much.” 

Lead Levels Map

This map, published with LNP's May 2015 special series on lead poisoning, shows the percentage of children tested for lead who had elevated blood levels in various areas of Lancaster County.

Lead problems persist in Lancaster County, not likely from water pipes but from lead paint in older housing stock.  In fact, Pennsylvania ranks second among all 50 states in the rate of lead poisoning of its children. 

A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that 8 percent of children under the age of 6 in Pennsylvania had seriously elevated levels of lead in their blood, 5 or more micrograms per deciliter.

Even miniscule amounts of lead can cause serious mental and emotional problems in children and can increase the chances they could end up in prison.

The city is the only municipality in Lancaster County to enforce a lead ordinance on landlords, but a recent effort to toughen the ordinance met with opposition and was tabled.

Problems started in Flint in 2014 when they switched to the Flint River as a water source, in an effort to cut costs. For decades the city of Flint paid Detroit to have its water piped in from Lake Huron, with anti-corrosion chemicals added along the way. 

But they failed to add proper corrosion-control treatment of the new water source. That failure allowed rust, iron and lead to leach from aging pipes and wind up in residents’ homes.

The catastrophe exposed thousands of children to high levels of lead, which can cause long-term physical damage and mental impairment, and water contamination also has been linked to the deaths of a dozen people from Legionnaires’ disease.

More than a dozen state and local officials have been charged with crimes in connection with the water crisis.