31,974 Lead Pipes May Deliver Water to Homes in D.C.

Washington D.C. ranks eighth in nation with the most lead pipes per 100,000 people

WASHINGTON – An estimated 31,974 or more lead service lines carry drinking water to Washington, D.C. residents who may not suspect their tap water could be contaminated with lead. D.C. has the eighth-highest number of lead lines per capita nationwide at 4,637 lead lines per 100,000 people, according to a new survey from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). 

NRDC's new national survey of lead service lines – the lead pipes that carry water from water mains under the street to homes – found between 9.7 million and 12.8 million lead pipes are connected to residences. All 50 states have lead pipes carrying drinking water to as many as 12 million people, and potentially more, who may not suspect their tap water is contaminated with lead. There is no safe level of lead, which causes irreversible harm to people’s health, particularly for children. 

“Drinking water won’t be safe until the country pulls the millions of lead pipes out of the ground found in every state,” said Valerie Baron, interim national policy director and senior attorney at NRDC. “President Biden’s American Jobs Plan is a historic opportunity to fix the nation’s lead pipe crisis. Removing lead pipes will improve health and create jobs, starting in low-income communities and communities of color with the highest rates of lead exposure.”  

NRDC’s survey also found:  

  • The top 10 states with the most lead pipes, ranked in numeric order, are as follows: IL, OH, MI, NY, NJ, MO, WI, IN, TX, MN. Together these 10 states have nearly four million lead pipes.   
  • Lead pipes are found in every state in the nation. It is not an urban issue; rural states have lead pipes, too.     
  • D.C. has the eighth-highest number of lead pipes per capita in the U.S. The top 10 states with the most lead pipes per 100,000 people are as follows: WI, OH, KS, MO, IL, IA, NE, DC, MI, MN.    
  • After NRDC requested estimates of total lead pipes from all 50 states and Washington D.C., just 10 states (AK, CA, CO, CT, IL, IN, MI, NJ, OR, WI) and the District of Columbia were able to provide jurisdiction wide lead pipe estimates. 
  • NRDC estimates there may be up to 12.8 million lead pipes: NRDC confirmed 6.2 million known lead pipes; additionally, there are from 3.5 million to as many as 6.6 million service lines that are currently of unknown material that are projected to be lead. 

Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, the result of massive lead contamination of its drinking water, provided the nation and the world a glimpse into the frailty of aging water infrastructure in Flint and beyond. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan would help every community in the nation remove its lead pipes, by providing $45 billion to states to pull lead pipes out of the ground –creating high quality jobs while helping to eliminate the public health disaster of lead-contaminated drinking water. Biden’s plan would create a comprehensive package of strategic investments that address critical priorities, like improving the nation’s failing water infrastructure, and climate action in a moment the nation urgently needs both.    

NRDC collected data through a survey of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. For the 40 states that either fail to track or could not provide an estimate of the number of lead pipes in the ground statewide, NRDC relied upon a 2016 voluntary industry survey that federal auditors called a “lower bound estimate” of the number of lead lines. NRDC then projected the number of additional lead service lines that are likely to be present among the pipes of unknown composition based on data collected from other states. 

To see NRDC’s research and maps of lead pipes found in every state, see this link:  

Lead Pipes are Widespread and Found in Every State 

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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