By ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Providence Water recently launched a program, “Lead Free is the way to be,” designed to help Rhode Island homeowners who have private-side lead service lines replace those lines and to provide customers with a variety of tools to determine if they have lead in their water and how to reduce exposure.
When the systems of lead pipes that run under Providence, Cranston, North Providence, Johnston and older sections of other serviced neighborhoods were first installed, many people didn’t know about or understand the dangers of lead poisoning. As a result, lead remains the primary connection for water running to older homes. The fix is complicated, and expensive, as copper piping is the replacement.
Some 12,300 homes — about 16 percent of Providence Water’s 75,000 retail customers — are still serviced by utility-owned pipes made of lead that connect the public water main to private property. Many of those homes, and plenty of others, likely contain lead pipes, fixtures and/or solder.
Providence Water has estimated that another 25,000 private-side lead service lines remain in use within its service area. The cost to replace a lead service line is about $2,000 to $3,000 — a ballpark cost of about $93 million to replace the 37,300 or so lead service lines within Providence Water’s retail district. That estimated cost doesn’t include lead soldering, fixtures and other hidden sources. If a home or building, for instance, was built or plumbed before 1983, it could have lead-soldered copper pipes.
There are no detectable levels of lead in the drinking water that leaves the Providence Water treatment plant in Scituate and travels through some 1,000 miles of mains.
“Lead and copper contamination in drinking water primarily occurs because of the corrosion of pipes, lead plumbing and lead solder, especially in older homes,” Providence Water general manager Ricky Caruolo said. “Over the last twenty years, Providence Water has spent more than $55 million replacing partial public-side lead services. The Lead Free is the way to be program builds on our work to eliminate lead in drinking water.”
As part of the new program, a total of $1.2 million, offered as 3-year, no-interest loans, will be made available to property owners to replace their private-side lead service lines.
Providence Water will automatically replace the public side of lead service lines as private-side service lines are replaced, according to Caruolo.
Other elements in the Lead Free program are: free kits and laboratory lead testing for all customers; materials to help residents determine if they have lead service lines; public education and outreach, including information on how to reduce lead exposure.