“So broken it cannot be fixed”: Bill would force owners to replace lead pipes

Environmentalists and owners on same side of issue

Council Bill Would Force NYC Owners to Replace Lead Pipes
Councilmember James Gennaro (New York City Council, Getty)

Lead pipes were outlawed in New York City decades ago, but many still exist. Now, a bill forcing property owners to replace them has environmentalists piping up.

Councilmember James Gennaro introduced a bill requiring owners to remove their lead pipes in the next decade, Gothamist reported. Burdening owners — rather than the government — with the task is generating an outcry, even from environmental advocates.

The law would fine owners up to $1,000 if they fail to replace their lead service lines within 10 years. That may not spur many to act, as each job costs $5,000 to $10,000, the state’s health department estimates.

Moreover, green groups such as the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning argue that the responsibility for repairs should be on the government. A citywide overhaul would be cheaper than a piecemeal, home-by-home approach, which could disrupt communities, roads and even cause more environmental damage.

“This bill is so badly broken, it cannot be fixed,” said Joshua Klainberg of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

City officials claim that service lines are on private property and therefore out of their jurisdiction. They also argue a citywide mass replacement would be too expensive.

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However, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021 earmarked $15 billion of federal money for states to replace lead service lines, but only for municipalities whose water utilities spearhead the process. The Council bill could make the city ineligible for those funds.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection said the city can only get a quarter of the state’s share of the funds, which would be a small fraction of the estimated $2 billion-plus citywide cost.

Gennaro has acknowledged that his legislation is likely to be amended to create more financial assistance avenues for owners and channels for state and federal funding.

Lead pipes were outlawed in New York City in 1961, but as many as one in five properties might still get water from them, though it is treated to prevent toxic metal from infiltrating the supply. Lead poisoning — which is more likely in poorer neighborhoods — can cause brain damage and learning problems for children.

Holden Walter-Warner

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