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Akron set to begin final stages of lead line replacement project this summer

A sawed off lead pipe coated in dirt.
Paul Sancya
To expedite replacement of its lead service lines, Akron will hire three contractors to split the work. In this file photo, a lead pipe is shown after being replaced by a copper water supply line to a home in Flint, Michigan, July 20, 2018.

The city of Akron is on track to complete its lead service lines replacement project by 2025, two years ahead of requirements to do so from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

There are about 2,000 remaining lead lines in Akron, and the city expects to replace 1,500 of those with copper lines by the fall of 2025.

Akron is faring better than other public water systems, Akron Water Supply Bureau Manager Jeff Bronowski said, especially compared to other cities of Akron's age and size.

"You will see that we are one of very few that can make this statement that we're lead service free, or will soon be lead service free," he said.

At its Monday meeting, Akron City Council approved funding to begin replacing the lead lines. The request for proposals is expected in a few weeks, with contracts to be awarded by July and replacement to start by August.

The city received $12.5 million in funding from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency through a principal forgiveness loan, Bronowski said, which will cover the cost of the contractors.

The city will award three separate contracts to complete the work, each contractor receiving 500 lead lines to replace to allow the work to be completed in a more timely manner, Bronowski said.

Each lead line could take as much as a day to replace due to the potential excavations, sidewalk replacement and lawn repairs that go into it, Bronowski said, but the total time required will depend on the location of the line.

"Like if there's a tree in the way, or if there's a sidewalk, or if the road is made of concrete or asphalt," he said. "A crew of three to four individuals can usually, on a good day, ... get three done every two days."

But it's unlikely that the process will require full road closures, impede traffic or prevent residents from accessing their homes, Bronowski said.

Once contractors have been selected, Bronowski said eligible residents can expect letters notifying them of their replacement dates.

The lead line replacement project will overlap with the city's galvanized private houseline program that will remove 250 galvanized lines from homes at no cost to homeowners.

Galvanized lines commonly clog due to buildup of mineral deposits within the line. But for galvanized lines located downstream from a lead service line, they can pose risk of lead contamination, according to researchers.

"They found that some of those mineral deposits have have lead in them," Bronowski said. "Out of an abundance of caution, EPA has decided that [they] expect you to get rid of those galvanized lines that were once downstream of lead."

For homeowners with both lead lines and galvanized lines, both will be replaced at the same time, Bronowski said.

The city will apply for a separate round of funding to replace the 500 remaining lead lines by the end of 2025, Bronowski said, which will allow the bureau to ensure they have capacity to complete the work.

The water system uses a corrosion control inhibitor called zinc orthophosphate lining on all its metal pipes to keep water from coming directly into contact with lead and other material in the pipes, Bronowski said. They will continue this practice with the new copper pipes, Bronowski said, as this process prevents lead contamination in the water supply.

"We test on a annual basis, throughout our distribution system, and our numbers are, well, well, well within, EPA requirements," Bronowski said. "We're near record-setting right now in low identification of lead. It's almost undetectable."

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.