Clean water should be a fundamental human right

State effort will help remove lead pipe service lines to Mass. homes

MASSACHUSETTS HAS SOME of the most stringent regulations regarding the safety of tap water in the country. However, according to environmental officials, Massachusetts has an estimated 220,000 lead pipe service lines running into houses and buildings. (Service lines connect homes or buildings to water mains.) A Water Research Foundation report found that where present, lead service lines contribute an estimated 50-75 percent of the total lead mass entering the water, this results in 20-35 percent of lead mass entering a house’s water meter, and 1-3 percent of lead mass entering the water from the faucet to drinking water, which can result in serious health effects for the consumer.

The Environmental Protection Agency set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero. Toxic metals can be harmful to human health, even at low exposure levels. Based on visual inspections, in Boston, for instance, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission reported about 3,900 addresses using lead service lines, and a 2016 American Water Works Association survey estimated that Massachusetts had more lead service lines than all but 10 states.

The only permanent and 100% effective solution to address this issue is the replacement of lead services lines, which costs, on average, between $3,000 and $5,000 per line. This steep price makes it difficult for many homeowners to afford a replacement, although the state has begun taking concrete measures to mitigate this harm.  Luckily, there are more resources than ever to help people make this change.

When I learned this information, I filed legislation to address the issue and create a grant program for municipalities that needed assistance to distribute funds to their residents. The Massachusetts House and Senate took action towards this goal this summer. In July, we sent to Gov. Baker H.5065, An Act Financing the General Governmental Infrastructure of the Commonwealth, which included a $20 million funding authorization and language to create a new lead service line replacement program within the treasurer’s Clean Water Trust that would distribute funds to municipalities to distribute residents in areas of need. This language originated in an amendment I filed that was adopted by the House when we took up the bill in May 2022 and the conference committee, led by Rep. Danielle Gregorie and Sen. Will Brownsberger, included the language in the final conference report. It was signed into law by Governor Baker in August and will create the first state-funded replacement program. I appreciate Speaker Mariano and Senate President Spilka and the rest of the legislature recognizing this serious issue and embracing this solution.

In addition, on July 1, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection announced the open solicitation of applications for drinking water and clean water projects for the Massachusetts State Revolving Fund 2023 Intended Use Plan to begin mitigating the harm from lead service lines based on federal funding the state received. This revolving fund offers affordable loan options to cities and towns to improve water supply infrastructure and drinking water safety, while addressing issues such as watershed management priorities, stormwater management, and green infrastructure. The Clean Water Trust, also based on federal funding, is offering grants to municipalities to figure out how many lead service lines exist within their borders.

Finally, some municipalities, such as Boston, offer interest-free loans to those who want to replace their lead service lines.

Meet the Author

Jay Livingstone

State representative, Boston
Water runs through lead service lines throughout the Commonwealth, even at some of the most exclusive and expensive properties. Please check if your house or apartment building has lead service lines. If you think it may have lead service lines, your municipalities may be able to aid the replacement and lead removal. Clean drinking water should be a human right in the United States of America, and I am pleased that Massachusetts is doing its part to start to address this issue.

Jay Livingstone is a Democratic state representative from Boston.