Written by: Ryan Magee, Research Scientist at the Southwest Environmental Finance Center (SW EFC)


Lead’s historic use in water pipes has come under scrutiny as a result of increased understanding of its health impacts on both adults and children. Lead exposure in children can affect development of the brain and nervous systems, causing slowed growth, delayed learning, and behavior challenges.[1] Lead exposure to adults can impact the heart, reproductive system, nervous system, kidneys, and brain.[2] With an estimated nine million lead pipes across the country still transmitting water to households, schools, and child care centers, the removal of these potentially harmful waterlines will improve the health outcomes of both child and adult alike.

Fig. 1: Service Line Diagram example showing water line from street to residence (EPA)

Understanding the type of service line connecting a customer’s home with a water system’s delivery pipe is a key step in documenting where lead may come from in a water system. It also gives both customers and systems the knowledge to begin addressing any lead exposure that might be occurring in those locations.

What Customers Should Know

As utilities ramp up their efforts to meet the October 2024 deadline, all customers of water systems should know that their provider may contact them regarding the potential of lead pipes in their service lines with questionnaires, follow-up visits, or other related documents and requests. Customers should keep in mind that:

  • The goal of the EPA directive is to ensure safe drinking water for all through the reduction of lead exposure.
  • Water systems are required to comply with the EPA directive and submit an inventory of known and unknown lead piping no later than October 16, 2024.
  • Water systems will need to know about the customer-owned section of the service line, even though it serves water on private property.
  • Providing information to a water system about the type of pipe found in a building will enable this compliance.

Federal and state organizations are offering funding, guidance, and resources for both systems and customers to comply with this requirement. By working together and remembering that the goal of this requirement is to improve health outcomes for both children and the general population, the creation of lead service line inventories clarifies the baseline of lead use in community water systems and lays the groundwork for its complete removal from water systems.



[1] CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/health-effects.htm

[2] EPA, https://www.epa.gov/lead/what-are-some-health-effects-lead; NIH, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1797860/