Removing lead from Minnesota's water would cost $4 billion, but save $8 billion

A report highlights just how much lead there is in Minnesota's water systems.
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A study has revealed just how abundant the presence of lead is in Minnesota's water infrastructure, and the costs of removing it all.

The Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota found that in order to take the two most "significant sources" of lead out of the water system would cost up to $4.12 billion over the next 20 years.

"The costs are associated with replacing lead service lines, which connect homes with water mains, and replacing in-home plumbing and fixtures that contain lead," the U of M and MDH announced on Thursday.

But in a case of speculating to accumulate, the report says that the economic benefit could be more than double the cost of removing said lead, at around $8.47 billion.

That's because taking out the lead, which can cause long-term health and behavioral problems, would "enhance brain development and lifetime productivity in people, resulting in increased earnings and taxes paid."

"For every dollar spent on addressing lead in drinking water, we would see at least two dollars in benefits,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm in a press release.

"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.”

The report was compiled at the direction of the Minnesota Legislature, and found that the main cause of lead in drinking water is the metal leaching from pipes and plumbing.

The houses mostly affected will be those built before 1986, after which the lead limit in plumbing was reduced from 8 percent to 0.25 percent.

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The report estimates that the cost to replace lead-exposed plumbing in a 1,500 square foot, 2-bedroom home would be between $2,000 and $6,000, costing up to $3.7 billion based on carrying out the work on 675,000 homes in Minnesota.

Lead removal from service lines meanwhile would cost between $2,500 and $8,000.

Among the recommendations the report makes is conducting a "statewide inventory" of lead service lines and removing them at a "measured pace."

It also calls for increasing awareness of the dangers of lead exposure, focusing particularly on formula-fed infants who are younger than 9 months old, as well as raising awareness among homeowners and renters, letting them know if they have a lead service line.

You can find the full report here.

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