GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids has big plans this year to replace lead pipes and remove lead paint from low-income homes.
The city has planned to replace about 2,037 lead service lines, a significant chunk of those still remaining, with copper pipes.
The water department operates the second largest system in the state and serves approximately 80,000 accounts, Water System Manager Wayne Jernberg said.
“Putting that in perspective, essentially a quarter of our accounts have a lead service line of some sort, whether it’s a full lead service line or partial,” Jernberg said.
The project is using a combination of grant funding and money collected for maintenance through water bills.
“This is the first year that we’ve really gone after it heavy in partnership with our Vital Streets initiative in the city because we know if we dig up the street at one point, OK, and the street has just been resurfaced then we’re going to have to come back and repave it again so we’re trying to minimize the invasiveness,” Jernberg said.
The water department says approximately 22,000 lead lines still need to be replaced. That number does not include the nearly 3,500 that have been swapped out through the end of 2022.
Customers can view an interactive map on the city’s website to see if their water service line is lead.
The city also treats the water with an orthophosphate to keep lead from leaching into the water.
“This corrosion control allows for it to basically create a hardened film on the inside of a lead pipe that keeps the lead from flaking off and getting into the drinking water,” Jernberg said.
Paul Haan is a lead program specialist with the city, working on removing lead paint from low-income homes, which is especially a concern for children and is a more common source of lead exposure.
“What lead does to the body is it interferes with neurological development brain development,” Haan explained. “It gets on the floor where the child accesses it and these are, 8 out of 10 times, it’s a 1 or 2-year-old child crawling around on the floor getting it on their hands and into their mouths.”
Haan said the city has about 28,000 rental units built before 1978 — when lead paint was banned In homes — that more than likely have some lead paint.
“We really want to get to the point where there’s no child exposed. Right now in some zip codes it’s close to 10% of the kids, 1 out of 10 tested, and across the city it’s close to 1 out of every 20 kids tested,” Haan said.
The city has funding through provided by the federal government to cover the cost for low-income households. While it is making progress, there is still substantial work ahead.
“Probably our two biggest limiting factors are people applying for the program, having interest in it wanting to do it and secondly, we are looking for contractors that would like to engage in this process, get certified,” Haan said.