The Brunswick and Topsham Water District officials will soon be sending letters to residents regarding their long-term plan to replace galvanized water pipes with copper to make their drinking water safer.

According to Brunswick and Topsham Water District General Manager Craig Douglas these pipes have become old and are no longer considered safe.

The officials are now planning to conduct a survey to identify customers who still use these pipes.

“We do not know how many customers are still using these pipes,” said Douglas. “We will start sending out the survey to customers by mail in March, and this will help us identify what their service pipe is. We are expecting the push from the federal government to get these pipes removed.”

The district removed the lead pipes in the water distribution system nearly 40 years ago, but there are galvanized pipes that are still in service.

In December, President Joe Biden announced a “whole of government strategy” to replace all of the nation’s lead service lines, including billions of dollars to begin replacing 100% of the lead pipes servicing the nation’s homes.

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As part of the initiative, the Environmental Protection Agency will send $2.9 billion from the newly passed bipartisan infrastructure law to states, territories and tribes to replace lead pipes, according to Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan released in December.

The White House estimates that 6 million to 10 million households get their drinking water from lead pipes, with low-income people and people of color being disproportionately placed at risk due to lead pipes.

According to a fact sheet released by the White House, children, toddlers, and teenagers in 400,000 schools and childcare facilities across the U.S. are at risk of exposure to lead in their water.

“Lead exposure is a critical public health issue,” the statement reads, in part. “It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Even low-level lead exposure is of particular concern to developing the fetus, infants, and children. According to the CDC, more than half of children in the U.S. are at risk of lead exposure – often in their own home. The CDC recently updated its blood lead reference value to better identify children with higher levels of lead in their blood.”

While the cost of replacing these pipes is not determined yet, Douglas said it depends on how long the pipe is. The department will be hiring local contractors to help replace these pipes.

“The shorter pipes cost less compared to the longer ones,” said Douglas. “It also depends on where these pipes are located, whether it’s under their driveway, walkway, or just under a lawn.”

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It is estimated that the customers have to pay for their “side” of service.

“There may be some federal money available to help people replace it,” said Douglas. “Nobody knows if that will help cover half of the cost or all of the cost. We don’t know how much the government is going to help with.”

The water department provides service to 7,500 customers between Topsham and Brunswick – with two-thirds of its customers in Brunswick and one-third are from Topsham.

While the department will start identifying customers using galvanized pipes this year, Douglas said he doesn’t expect the groundwork to begin until 2024.

Douglas said it might take at least two years to replace all the old pipes in both communities.


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