Removing lead from Minnesota's water could cost $4 billion

It could take $4 billion to remove lead from Minnesota’s drinking water, but the health department says the benefits will outweigh the cost.

In the land of 10,000 lakes, significant lead levels are not coming from our surface or ground waters. They are coming from many of our old homes.

For a contaminant in our water we can’t see or taste, the risk factors of lead are well known.

“It’s a dangerous metal,” said Jan Malcolm, the Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner. “It has a tremendous potential impact on health long-term. Both in ability to learn and in other health effects.”

 Malcolm just released a new study of lead in Minnesota water and it pinpoints how the greatest exposure lies in older homes.

The study suggests that there are approximately 100,000 homes in Minnesota still using lead service lines. These are homes all built before the 1940s and predominantly in the Twin Cities and Duluth areas because where all our population growth was at the time.

The benefits of spending the $4 billion will be children growing up with higher IQs and working better jobs, which the state thinks could be an $8 billion benefit conservatively.

“It didn’t really look at healthcare costs avoidance in other dimensions, nor does it look at the costs on corrections or other society costs that can be avoided by some of the heath and behavior issues that come with lead exposure,” Malcolm said.

She admits, however, that eliminating these last sources of lead poisoning will be a big commitment for the state.

“Now we take this next step of perhaps a more difficult problem of, in the sense of that more difficult problem of water infrastructure of being very expensive and being spread all over the state and in effecting both municipalities and the private sector,” Malcolm said. “But it‘s absolutely the right thing to do to take that next step to remove kind of this next priority in terms of sources of lead.” 

Replacing the lead service lines is not cheap. Reports estimate they can run upwards of $8,000.

In cities such as Minneapolis, the homeowner is on the hook.

Malcom says there will likely be some funding from the federal government to help lower those costs to homeowners.