A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggests that the U.S. could save an estimated $786 billion in health-related costs over the next 35 years if it replaced all lead service lines for drinking water.
The report estimates that the national cost of removing all lead service lines would be in the range of $46 to $56 billion, or $5,000 to $6,100 per lead service line removal.
The NRDC created a state-by-state breakdown of how many lead service lines exist, as well as the potential health savings from replacing them.
As of 2021, some of the states with the most lead lines were Illinois (679,292), Ohio (650,000), Michigan (460,000), and New York (360,000). The EPA recently conducted a nationwide survey of many water utilities and state officials and estimated that there are about 9.2 million lead service lines nationwide.
Subscribe to our Newsletter!
The latest environmental engineering news direct to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.
The NRDC report relies on data from the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University to make links between lead exposure and the costs of all the potential health risks. These range from impacts on the nervous system of children and adults, including cognitive function decrements, to cardiovascular concerns.
Cardiovascular treatment costs, primarily linked to hypertension and heart disease, comprise the bulk of annual health care costs at $28.3 billion. The report references a June 2023 statement from the American Heart Association that noted exposure to lead is linked to numerous cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke.
The study also found that lead exposure is linked to a range of negative impacts on the brain, with an estimated cost of $200 million per year for ADHD, $84 million for depression, and $40 million for dementia.
Benefits for individual states that replace lead service lines range from $124 million for Alaska on the low end, to $89 to $99 billion in Illinois and Florida at the high end, the report says.
“Decades ago, health risks led to a ban on lead from gasoline and paint, but lead remains widespread in drinking water across the nation,” announced Erik D. Olson, NRDC’s senior strategic director for health, who authored the report. “This is an urgent public health crisis, as tens of millions of people essentially drink water from a lead straw, unaware of the big risk to their health. We found staggering health and dollar benefits for removing lead water pipes. And water utilities that do nothing are essentially opting in favor of avoidable and costly health risks and even deaths.”
In 2019, Health Canada published revised guidelines, lowering he maximum allowable concentration (MAC) of lead in drinking water, from 0.01 mg/L (set in 1992) to 0.005 mg/L.