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A grant is helping Water Works replace lead service lines to homes with pregnant people and young kids

Man in a hard hat in a white-brick-walled basement holds a roll of copper piping.
Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU
A worker unspools a roll of copper piping as it is pulled through the basement wall out to the front yard. The copper pipe will replace the home's existing lead service lines.

Homeowners Liz and Roman Lewis knew when they bought their 142-year-old home in Spring Grove Village in June that it had lead water service lines. The information turned up during the inspection process.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works is replacing lead lines across its service area. While it used to cover part of the cost, starting last December, Water Works covers the full cost from street to meter.

Liz Lewis called to see about getting on the waiting list.

a man and woman stand in front of a white fence beside their home
Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU
Roman and Liz Lewis were able to speed up the lead line replacement process because Liz, who is pregnant, qualifies under an H2Ohio grant.

"They told me there's a longer line and all this, but then he's like, 'Unless you are pregnant or if someone (living in the house is) under 6,' " Lewis recalls. "I was like, 'Well, actually, you're one of the only people who knows, but I'm pregnant.' Then he gave me the number of someone to contact directly, and then it kind of just moved quickly from there."

On Thursday, a crew ran new copper piping from the Lewis's basement 125 feet to the curb.

copper pipe attached to tow rope about to be pulled through a basement wall
Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU
A digger in the front yard prepares to pull the new copper piping through a pre-drilled hole.

Water Works estimates there are about 40,000 lead service lines that need replacing. Lead Program Manager Leslie Moening says there are some 900 people currently on the waiting list.

In 2020, GCWW was awarded a $725,000 grant from H2Ohio to prioritize replacing lines running to childcare facilities. So far, lines running into 69 childcare facilities have been replaced.

Once work began, Moening says GCWW found a lot of facilities — because of pandemic-related issues — weren't in a position at the time to have the work done. She says the state agreed to let GCWW use the funds to also target private homes where a pregnant person lives and/or homes with children under 6.

To date, GCWW has completed replacements at 29 homes and has 31 pending. Moening says the goal is to get to 184 using the grant. People can still sign up.

That's what the Lewis's did.

"Finding out that Cincinnati has this program obviously made it easier," says Liz Lewis, who is due in February, adding it's reassuring to know the water will be safe by then.

"It was also refreshing to see a city program move so quickly and actually follow through. We were expecting to have to wait a long time but it's just been a few months."

man with a shovel stands in mud in a rectangular pit beside a lead service line
Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU
A worker digs around the existing lead service line at the junction by the street.

Moening says grants like the one from H2Ohio help GCWW prioritize the overall replacement process. Low-income individuals also are prioritized.

GCWW launched the plan to get rid of all the lead service lines in its service area more than five years ago. In July, Director Cathy Bailey was tapped to serve a year as a senior advisor to the U.S. EPA to provide guidance on replacing lead pipes for drinking water.

Lead — whether in water lines, paint, or other older items including toys, hobby items or jewelry — can affect a child’s intelligence, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. Specifically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead poisoning in children can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.