Help Utica Get the Lead Out of its Drinking Water

The purpose of this correspondence is to garner your support to help Utica to get the lead out of its drinking water. The money to accomplish this is now available. Using a portion of the $64 million American Rescue Plan funds will allow the city to rid itself of a serious public health problem; one that has affected and vexed generations of Uticans My 6/3/21 conversation with Urban and Economic Development Commissioner Brian Thomas confirms that such a project would “absolutely” be eligible and would qualify for funding. This once in a generation infusion of cash, coupled with bold visionary leadership, will allow us to eliminate a multi-generational problem forever.

Why is it critical to eliminate lead from Utica’s water:

EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that there is no known safe level of lead in a child's blood. Lead is harmful to health, especially for children. ''In homes with lead pipes that connect the home to the water main, also known as lead services lines, these pipes are typically the most significant source of lead in the water “ EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Lead is persistent, and it can bio-accumulate in the body over time.

Utica has one of the highest rates in NY State of children testing positive for lead poisoning in their bloodstream. Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.

*. EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.


Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

Behavior and learning problems, Lower IQ and hyperactivity, Slowed growth, Hearing problems, Anemia, In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

Pregnant Women

Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium and is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also cross the placental barrier exposing the fetus to lead. This can result in serious effects to the mother and her developing fetus, including: Reduced growth of the fetus and Premature birth

Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:

Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension, Decreased kidney function, Reproductive problems (in both men and women)

How can we accomplish the goal of eliminating lead from our drinking water?

Costs: Obviously the main obstacle in the past has been the cost to replace the lead service lines. Much of the population severely affected by lead poisoning, live in some of the oldest structures that are located in the poorest parts of the city. My research indicates, that the cost to replace a lead service line from the curb to the residence is between $3,000 to $5,000. Many of the owners of these affected properties either could not or would not pay this amount. Not for Profits that have taken over former residences also may not have the monies available for such a replacement. Commercial service lines tend to be larger and would not be lead in composition.

On 6/4/21 I had a conversation with the Director of Water Quality for MVWA, Phillip A. Tangorra He confirmed the $3,000 to $5,000 figure previously mentioned. He also confirmed the 2,500 lead service line figure posted on their web site. The vast majority of which are located in the City of Utica, but not all are. Keep in mind, that most water utilities will only replace their portion of lead pipes from the main to the curb after the lead service line to the home is eliminated. I asked how many of MVWA lead lines have been taken out in recent years and at what cost to the utility. Mr. Tangorra responded that he didn’t know offhand. He seemed however, fairly confident that it would cost $5,000 to $6,000 for a full removal of all lead lines. By full he means from the main to the curb (MVWA lead service line) and also from the curb to inside the structure (residential lead service line).

Diagram and definitions of terminology used to help you visual and understand what’s involved regarding lead service lines.

In December of 2020 there was a revision of EPA’s Lead and Copper rule , which requires water utilities such as MVWA to provide a public inventory of lead service lines. Mr. Tangorra says MVWA has until 2024 to provide this inventory. Lead testing is done every 3 years . There was a significant increase from 2015 to 2018 . Mr. Tangorra explains that “the increase in the 90th percentile in 2018 is attributed to the fact that all samples collected for the 2018 sampling were confirmed lead services. Prior years used a 50% threshold for sampling lead services but in consultation with the department of health, we decided to focus our effort on all lead service lines in anticipation of the revised rule”. Lead testing will be done again this summer. Rules and regulations by government agencies pertaining to water quality have increased drastically in number and in costs. Think about the 10s of millions of dollars that MVWA has had to spend in capital improvements during the last couple of decades to meet these unfunded mandates. When will the next lead shoe drop?

A small number of cities across the US have already tackled their lead service line problem and they did it well before American Rescue Plan Fund availability. Their plan of action for residents ranged from free no cost replacement to low cost replacement to no interest loan repayment over a period of years.

Fortunately, all lead service lines can now be eliminated in Utica ,using just a portion of the American Rescue Plan funds alone or in combination with additional sources of funding currently available.

Summary & Plea for Action:

The EPA, CDC, and a multitude of medical professionals all agree that lead is harmful and can cause a variety of health problems, especially for children. Furthermore, they agree that there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s bloodstream. Unfortunately, for generations Utica has had one of the highest levels of childhood lead poisoning cases in NY State. Hindering a solution to the problem has been the fact that most of the lead service lines are located in the oldest structures in the poorest parts of the City of Utica.

There are large sums of monies that can come to the rescue. Utica has already received monies from the American Rescue Plan with a total of $64 Million dollars promised from the Federal government. The Department of Treasury’s web site states that “these funds can also be used to make necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. Utica’s Urban and Economic Development Commissioner, Brian Thomas agrees that a project to eliminate all lead service lines would “absolutely” be eligible for these funds.

Utica will be receiving a once in a generation infusion of cash from a variety of Federal and NY State programs. Shouldn’t we use just a small portion of these funds to solve a large multi- generational public health problem once and for all? Why not leave a legacy of clean, safe drinking water, for our children and our children’s children? In addition, to the long-term health benefits; our area will experience immediate economic impacts from such a large infrastructure project. I’ll leave it to the economists to come up with the economic multiplier for such a project.

A word of caution and suggestion. A full lead service line replacement would require digging up the streets to replace the portion of the line from the main to the curb. Such a project would require active collaboration between the MVWA and the City. This is especially true now that legislation has been passed requiring millions of dollars be spent on a multi-year street paving plan. Yet another reason to do this project ASAP.

In closing I hope that you will add your voice and written words to help Utica get the lead out of its drinking water. I’m sending this correspondence out to a variety of Uticans with the hope that they will view this proposal favorably and will help to spread the word. This note is also posted on my web site I will also attempt to use social media at twitter and facebook to garner support. Feel free to add other social media platforms. We should all take and make a stand for our kids. Every politician running for office in the City of Utica this year, should go on the record and say yea or nay to such a plan . As the saying goes if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.


Richard Morris, Host of Green Local 175 Live, President , Energy Users Consulting Services, Inc.