What’s the Cost of Fixing Our Broken Tap Water System?

A recent report from the EPA estimates that there are millions of lead pipes still being used to transport tap water to people’s homes–endangering millions of people with lead poisoning.

But ripping up and replacing century-old pipes isn’t cheap: The EPA calculates that it would cost $625 billion to upgrade our tap water systems nationally. Meanwhile, the agency is also considering a “rule” on lead and copper in water that, while less drastic than a complete overhaul of the tap water system, would cost an estimated $335 million per year to implement.

And this might pay for itself.

A peer-reviewed study by Harvard’s Journal of Environmental Research finds that reducing lead levels in drinking water could lead to a savings worth billions of dollars–more than the rule would cost.

The EPA has been considering a 2021 plan which would increasingly regulate lead levels in drinking water. While the EPA understands the risks that lead levels in drinking water pose, their estimates significantly lowball the financial benefits that the plan would provide in saved healthcare costs. Estimates from the Harvard study, meanwhile, show a number of health areas where the proposed reforms would save America money.

These include:

  • Short-term damage to children’s cognitive function, estimated at $645 million per year
  • Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, estimated at $211 million per year
  • Impaired hearing in children, estimated at $47 million per year
  • Depression and ADHD in adults, estimated at $64 million per year
  • Hypertension in adults, estimated at $94 million per year
  • Cardiovascular disease-related deaths, estimated at $8.1 billion per year

Overall the study concludes that the plan would save at least $9 billion annually. Not only that, the plan would also reduce corrosion in pipes and water-utilizing appliances, saving billions more in wear-and-tear.

But the overall price tag for fixing our tap water system is still massive.