Louisville Water Removes All Known Lead Service Lines

The utility announced it has succeeded in removing 74,000 lead lines. Now, it's looking to help customers remove lead service lines on the private side.

Louisville Water Removes All Known Lead Service Lines

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Louisville (Kentucky) Water Co. recently announced an important achievement for public health. Louisville Water has removed all its known lead service lines that deliver drinking water — a milestone that only a few water utilities in the United States have achieved.

In all, Louisville Water removed approximately 74,000 lead service lines that were installed between 1860 and 1936.

Louisville’s drinking water doesn’t contain lead when it leaves the treatment plants. The risk for lead to get in the drinking water happens as the water travels through pipes and plumbing that contain lead. Louisville Water’s scientists balance the water chemistry to minimize the risk, but eliminating the lead service line is important. There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, and lead can be especially harmful to children, according to Louisville Water president and CEO Spencer Bruce.

“This is a proud day for our community and our employees,” he says. “The work to replace the lead service lines started with company leaders who preceded me. We accomplished this milestone while balancing dozens of important projects. It’s been a long road, but I’m proud to carry out the vision.”

Why use lead pipes?

When Louisville Water began producing and delivering water in 1860, lead was the material of choice to connect Louisville Water’s service to a customer’s property. Lead was easy for crews to work with and affordable. Louisville Water installed approximately 74,000 lead service lines between 1860 and 1936 before switching to copper service lines.

In the 1970s, Louisville Water began to replace a lead service line as they were discovered during routine work or water main breaks. Then, in the 1990s, the company began a focused approach to go block-by-block and replace the lead lines.

It took over 50 years and more than $50 million to remove the lines that were spread throughout Louisville Water’s service area, with the greatest concentration of lines in older neighborhoods that were established before the 1930s.

“This achievement by Louisville Water Co. is a great example of how our city innovates,” says Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “Removing lead pipes from the city’s water system is something that only a handful of cities have accomplished and shows how Louisville Water distinguishes itself as a national best-in-class water utility.” 

Tackling the private side

Now, Louisville Water wants to help customers remove a lead service line on their property. Customers are responsible for the water lines on their property, and a small percentage have a lead line that goes into their home.

Louisville Water encourages the full replacement of lead service lines so it is offering to help customers cover the costs. The utility has announced will pay up to 50% of the cost for a licensed plumber to replace a private outdoor lead service line, up to $1,500. For customers who need assistance with the remaining costs, the Louisville Water Foundation has funding for those who meet certain criteria.

“We know that there is no safe blood lead level for children,” says Dr. Sarah Moyer, Louisville’s chief health strategist and director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. We are fortunate that lead in drinking water is not a public health concern in Louisville. I applaud our partners at Louisville Water Company for ensuring all water service lines are lead-free and taking the extra step to help customers remove their own lead service lines on their properties.”

Louisville Water has begun to contact approximately 800 customers who have a private lead service line, according to the company’s records, to offer help. The utility says it understands customers may have questions about determining if they have a lead service line on their property. While a licensed plumber can verify, homes built after 1950 should not have an outdoor lead service line. Louisville Water also offers free water quality analysis for lead, and customers can request a free kit through the company’s website.



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