Mar 01, 2019

Report Finds Minnesota Lead Pipe Removal Provides Return on Investment

The report identifies and 2-for-1 return on investment in removing lead pipes and cleaning up drinking water

Study finds cleaning up lead in drinking water would provide return on investment
Study finds cleaning up lead in drinking water would provide return on investment

A new report by the Minnesota Health Department and the University of Minnesota found that while it would cost more than $4 billion to replace the state’s lead service lines, the investment would bring a return on investment. Ultimately, the report found that the large project would bring a 2-for-1 return on investment.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, this marks the first time health officials have put a price tag on removing the more than 100,000 lead service pipes that run through the state, as well as removing plumbing and fixtures in homes that contain lead. EPA studies from 2008 found that lead service lines contribute to roughly half of the lead contamination in drinking water from public systems.

"As we see in many other areas of public health, preventing a health problem is more cost effective than waiting for a health problem to develop and then treating it," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement.

Overall, the study investigated a 20-year time frame after potential lead removal and its benefits. The study was mandated in the wake of the Flint, Mich., drinking water crisis. Researchers were conservative in estimating potential benefits, said Lucia Levers, an environmentalist and economist at the University of Minnesota who collaborated on the report.

"These do not account for any other effects, for children or adults, nor do they account for any potential increases in deviant behavior, nor do they account for any equity concerns associated with lead in drinking water," Levers said. "As such, those benefit estimates that we've provided are really a minimum value, and the true benefit to the state of Minnesota is likely higher."

However, the report does not identify funding sources to subsidize lead pipe removal projects. Rather, the health department calls it a road map to lead pipe removal.