Lead line replacements continue in St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 11, 2021

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Despite the fact that the state only ordered St. Clair Shores to replace 7% of the original 656 residences thought to have lead service lines per year in 2019, the city has replaced more than 400 since that time, mostly in 2021.

“There still are a number, probably a few hundred homes, that we still want to verify just to make sure that they’re not lead,” said Department of Public Works Director Bryan Babcock. “We want to make sure that we’re getting all the lead out.”

The city first determined that about 2.5% of its service lines might contain lead when testing showed elevated lead levels in 2019. St. Clair Shores city officials were able to make contact with the owners of 408 homes, where the lead service lines have now been replaced. Babcock said there are still about 55 homes that they believe to have lead or galvanized service lines that need to be replaced, and the department has made appointments for the city’s contractor to come in and replace about half of those.

“Our records have shown (houses) built prior to 1950 are the ones that may have had lead used as a material in the plumbing,” he said. “Homes built after that, we’re not finding that lead was used.”

Since the problem was originally discovered in 2019, the city has systematically been going through the list of homes that were believed to have had lead service lines. Some of the homes had since been torn down and replaced, and some had already had their service lines changed, reducing the number that definitely needed to be replaced by the city.

He said the city uses a hydro excavator to “suck out a hole near the sidewalk” and excavate down to confirm the material used for the service line. Workers then knock on the door and, if permitted by the resident, confirm the material used where it enters the home through either the crawl space or the basement.

“Our office here has been working with residents, coordinating appointments that are convenient. Our contractor has been doing such a nice, clean job. It’s as if we were never there.

“Now those particular homes, their water is that much safer, so we’re really happy with the project and the progress.”

The department took a break from the work in October because they ran out of homes that had scheduled replacements. Since then, employees visited homes still in need of replacement, dropped off letters and did “whatever we can to make contact with the homeowners. We’ve been successful in getting another 25 homes (scheduled for replacement) in the month of November.”

Babcock said he hopes to have all the known lead service lines replaced within the next six months and will continue to verify others that arise.

That doesn’t mean DPW will stop testing water for lead, however. In some cases, there may have been lead solder used on copper pipes and lead used in plumbing fixtures in homes.

“The dangerous levels, we’re going to eliminate by replacing the service lines, but we’re still going to check to see those other sources of lead. There will be less sampling required because our lead levels will have dropped significantly, if not almost to zero, when we replace the service lines.”

The cost to replace the lead service lines, which is borne by the city, is between $3,000 and $5,000 per home. Babcock estimates St. Clair Shores has spent about $1.5 million on the replacement program, thus far. Some of the lines have been replaced individually, and some have been replaced in conjunction with water main replacement projects.