Sewerage & Water Board, Community Advocates, and National Partners embark on an Innovative Inventory and Public Engagement Program for New Orleans’s Lead Service Lines
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 24, 2023
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans will be one of the first communities in the nation to deploy cutting edge machine learning technology to inventory the composition of water lines servicing each New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (SWBNO) customer. Today local community groups, mapping experts, and elected officials held a kick-off event to announce development of an online, interactive map that will allow New Orleans residents to learn the known or likely composition of their home water pipes.
New Orleans, like most cities in the nation, lacks an updated comprehensive map of where lead water pipes are located. BlueConduit, a water analytics company, is providing technical support to Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans and together, are anchoring the map work in New Orleans.
BlueConduit is funded by Google.org. The community organizations – The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans, Total Community Action, Civic Studio – are leading a corresponding public engagement program, including education, access to map, and community input. This is a collaborative effort with support from national environmental organizations – WE ACT for Environmental Justice and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and BlueConduit, – as they provide funding support and help to connect us with other cities that have done this work, best practices, and technical expertise.
This map will ensure SWBNO’s compliance with the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule 2022 Revisions ahead of an October 2024 deadline and support the Biden Administration’s goals to eliminate lead from the Nation’s water supply.
“It is of the upmost importance that we protect our residents, particularly our children and other vulnerable populations, from the potential impacts of lead,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell, President of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. “Mapping out our water lines is the first step in addressing these contaminants. My administration and our partners at the Sewerage and Water Board are committed to working with the Federal Government to leverage the funds necessary to improve our city’s drinking water infrastructure.”
“The basis for successful citywide programs always starts with collaboration and partnerships. The Water Collaborative is excited to not only participate in this groundbreaking program, but also lead this project with intentionality around intersectional design and development of water justice programs in New Orleans. We are excited to convene multiple community organizations and the Sewerage and Water Board to co-develop a program that creates intrinsic accountability and transparency procedures,” says Jessica Dandridge, Executive Director of the Water Collaborative. “With millions of dollars coming down from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for Lead Abatement, it’s imperative that we not only prioritize community input into the development of this program, but also embed equitable and justice centric mechanisms throughout the process. We have a unique opportunity to address both infrastructure and health inequities. Once complete, residents will have more autonomy in their decision making about their health in ways not seen before in New Orleans. In the end we will uplift the voices of residents, children, and families while simultaneously forever changing the health outcomes of residents for decades to come.”
“Although we have excelled at reliably providing clean drinking water to our customers, it is no secret that we and other utilities across the nation face challenges,” said Ghassan Korban, Executive Director of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. “Under the leadership of President Biden, the infrastructure in our country is undergoing transformational change. Here in New Orleans, I am confident we will continue to provide our community with high-quality drinking water and I am proud to work alongside national and local partners to provide every resource available to our city.”
“Total Community Action, is committed to lifting up and advancing practices and policies that foster equitable and SAFE water access for all New Orleanians; and to that end, TCA is honored to be member of this diverse collaborative dedicated to ensuring a sustainable and affordable water access.” Said TCA President and CEO Thelma French, “We commit our resources and community connections to educating our children, youth and families about the harmful effects of lead, and empowering them to utilize all resources available to ensure equitable access to safe water. Water must be a common good!”
“Through this collaborative effort, we aim to support all New Orleanians in building our understanding of the role that drinking water infrastructure plays in our lives, including its impact on public health,” says Civic Studio. “We are excited to work with community members and local and national partners to develop a multimedia campaign and learning resources about this critical issue, while lifting up the voices of those most directly affected by the presence of lead in our drinking water system.”
New Orleans’ Water Service Line map will be informed by maps created for communities in Flint, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio. Those maps allow residents to find out the current pipe material at their homes, to find the available information about pipe inspections at their address, and to access resources for steps they can take to protect themselves and their families if their homes have lead water lines.
“The essential first step in ‘getting the lead out’ is to locate the lead, and in a city as old as New Orleans, that task is complicated,” said Eric Schwartz, BlueConduit Co-Founder and associate professor of marketing at Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. “BlueConduit is proud to provide the data science, analytics, and innovative technology behind this effort to prioritize New Orleans’ residents who are most vulnerable and at risk for lead exposure.”
New Orleans joins Buffalo, New York in this new multi-city public-private partnership to identify and replace lead water pipes, work made possible by a Google.org grant. This is a historic time for critical domestic infrastructure projects. The Biden Administration secured a landmark $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package allocating $15 billion to remove lead pipes from communities nationwide, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set to distribute about $50 billion in infrastructure funding for clean water—the largest single U.S. investment in drinking water and wastewater systems.
Historically, like in many cities, lead water pipes were used to provide water service to and within homes in New Orleans. Lead plumbing began to fall out of favor in the 1940s but was not legally restricted until Congress banned the practice in 1986. Some older homes may have water connections or plumbing that are made of lead.
The EPA estimates at least 6 to 10 million lead service lines exist in the United States, most of which are believed to be located in low-income communities and communities of color. Lead is a toxic metal, and because lead can build up in the body over time, children are the most vulnerable to its harmful effects. These health effects include impairment of the development of their brain and nervous system, which can lead to permanent and profound health and behavioral issues. Studies show that Black children living below the poverty line are twice as likely to suffer from lead poisoning as poor white children.
SWBNO is committed to making sure residents of Orleans Parish are not exposed to lead in their water. While the water leaving the utility’s drinking water treatment plants is lead-free, we recognize that lead exists in some service lines in our systems as well as in interior plumbing in some homes, businesses, and schools.
If a SWBNO residential customer wishes to determine whether their drinking water contains lead, SWBNO will provide free lead testing for any New Orleans residence. You do not need to own your home or receive a SWBNO bill to get a free testing kit.
Here’s how to request a free testing kit:
- Contact SWBNO’s Lab at (504) 865-0420 or WaterInfo@swbno.org.
- A test kit with instructions will be mailed to your address. Kits are delivered by USPS, and return postage is provided. A signature is not required for delivery.
- Results from lead testing may take approximately six to eight weeks. All results are provided by mail. If your results are above the EPA’s action level, you will also receive notification by phone or email.
Visit swbno.org/DrinkingWater/LeadAwareness to learn more about mitigating lead impacts.
# # #
For more information, please contact:
Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans
The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans
Total Community Action
WE ACT for Environmental Justice
National Resources Defense Council