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EPA: Indiana could spend billions to replace lead-lined water pipes

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has created a groundbreaking report on the number of lead pipes used to deliver water in Indiana and across the country.

The first-of-its-kind report was released earlier this month. The report estimates more than 250,000 lead-lined water pipes are in Indiana, which ranks the state as having the 14th most. The EPA built its estimates based on responses from a portion of the utility companies in the state.

The EPA report also presents a 20-year roadmap, with a cost of roughly $11.7 billion, to replace the pipes in Indiana.

The Indiana Finance Authority told I-Team 8 the utility companies are the ones responsible for replacing the lead pipes in Indiana. According to that state agency, the process has already started. The state government provides $100 million a year, on average, for low-interest loans and grants to utility companies to replace lead pipe service lines. That way customers won’t see a huge rate hike.

The state offers the grants because of the dangers of lead pipes.

“If you get too much lead, there can be health consequences from that,” said Dr. Blake Froberg, the medical director of Indiana Poison Center at IU Health. “Lead can cause a lot of different things, and one of the difficult things is that, at lower levels, you actually don’t get a whole lot of symptoms. It’s once you reach higher levels that you can get some symptoms. They can be things like general fatigue. Central nervous effects where you can get headaches and depression type symptoms and even changes in personality.”

Froberg told I-Team 8 the majority of cases he sees of high levels of lead exposure are from people coming in contact with lead paint. “Luckily a lot of the water exposure tends to be lower level,” Froberg said.

The EPA said lead in water only becomes dangerous if it rises above 15 parts per billion.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management said drinking water providers routinely test levels to make sure the water is safe.

I-Team 8 could not find a publicly available map showing where the lead service lines are in Indiana. By October 2024, utility companies in Indiana are required to submit a full inventory of the lead pipes in their systems. After that, Hoosiers will know for sure where the most lead pipes are in the state.

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