Editorial: State now must remove its lead pipes

Last week, the National Resources Defense Council issued a report that still 650,000 lead pipes are delivering water throughout our state, making Ohio the second worst in the U.S. for number of lead pipes still in use. (Illinois is worse with 730,000).

That’s a problem.

Acidic water sources corrode the pipes, which in turn leach lead into drinking water, which we consume daily. And there are no safe levels of lead exposure. Lead exposure has been linked to central nervous system damage, learning disabilities and impaired formation and function of blood cells, with infants and children being especially vulnerable.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer told the Ohio Capital Journal the agency is collecting lead service line data and requiring an inventory from all utilities to be submitted — but with no more specific timeline than “in upcoming years.”

At the very least, an inventory by utilities and municipalities should be done right now. We just haven’t discovered recently that lead in drinking water is dangerous — we’ve known this for decades. We are well past time to start making progress on the matter.

Associate director of Freshwater Future Kristy Meyer said every pipe costs between $2,400 and $7,100 to replace, which doesn’t factor in costs to dig to figure out if a service line does have lead. Freshwater Future has recommended lawmakers take $1 billion of the American Rescue Plan funds for use in line replacement. And state lawmakers have passed House Bill 168, which allocates $250 million for establishing and administering a water and sewer quality program. Gov. Mike DeWine’s “H2Ohio” project gives $725,000 to replace lead lines bringing water into Ohio day care centers. Certainly progress on that front should be made as soon as possible.

Money is becoming available, and we know the problem will not resolve itself. It is time for a sense of urgency. It will be inconvenient and expensive, but the Buckeye State must get to work on this one, immediately.

— Youngstown Vindicator, July 23