New York Legislature Passes Groundbreaking Bill on Lead Service Lines

June 4, 2023

Advocates Celebrate Legislative Action to Ensure Safe Drinking Water, Urge Governor Hochul to Swiftly Sign the Bill into Law

For Immediate Release: June 4, 2023

Albany, NY –The New York State Legislature took a significant step toward cleaner drinking water by passing the Lead Pipe Right to Know Act (A.6115 (Paulin) | S.5512 Rivera). This bill, which has now passed both the Senate and Assembly, makes it easier for New Yorkers to find out if they have a lead service line (LSL) bringing water into their residence. It also gives policymakers more information about the scale of the threat to public health across the state. This greater transparency will help direct resources more effectively towards the replacement of these lines. The bill was supported by a broad and diverse group of advocates, including the Lead Free Kids NY coalition.

New York has one of the highest estimated totals of LSLs in the nation. In April 2023, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that there were at least 494,000 lead service lines in New York State. Based on EPA’s projections, New York is believed to rank sixth among all fifty states when judged by the number of LSLs. It is difficult to calculate the precise number of LSLs in New York State because many water utilities have not inventoried their service lines. This legislation will answer the important questions of how many lead service lines are out there and where they are located.

This legislative action arrives amidst growing public concern about lead contamination—as seen most recently in Troy. There is no safe level of lead exposure, with harmful health effects including developmental delays and hearing and speech problems. This bill requires that the lead service line inventory that each water utility is already developing under federal EPA requirements follows state health department guidelines that are more protective of public health. Additionally, under this legislation, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) is required to make service line inventories publicly accessible and to create interactive maps enabling residents to understand their risk of lead exposure.

In the wake of growing environmental concerns, the State Legislature has consistently indicated their commitment to improving water safety. From enactment of the Lead in School Drinking Water Act in 2021 to $5 billion appropriated through the Clean Water Infrastructure Act funding since 2017, the passage of this bill provides another example of their outstanding leadership.

“New York is leading the country in progressive climate change legislation that keeps our communities healthy and safe. The Lead Pipe Right to Know Act will make information about the number and location of lead pipelines easily accessible to New Yorkers in an effort to get lead out of New York’s drinking water. We can combat environmental injustice by taking stock of our state’s infrastructure and ensuring access to clean water across the State,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Chair of the Senate Health Committee.

“Lead poisoning is an urgent public health issue facing New York’s children – and it disproportionately affects children in low-income and marginalized families.  There is no safe level of lead for our young, and lead exposure can have serious lifelong negative health impacts. The good news is that it’s entirely preventable. I’m so pleased that the Assembly passed the Lead Pipe Right to Know Act, which would require the New York State Department of Health to make a drinking water service line inventory and map publicly available and aid effective targeting of state and federal funding for lead service line replacements. Let’s make childhood lead exposure and lead poisoning a thing of the past in New York State,” said Assemblymember and Health Chair, Amy Paulin

“We would like to thank Senator Rivera and Assemblymember Paulin for championing this important clean water bill in the Legislature. This legislation will trigger the first steps towards a transparent, lead-free future for our state. Now we urge Governor Hochul to swiftly sign this bill into law, ensuring that New Yorkers no longer remain in the dark about the safety of their drinking water.” said Adriana Ortega, Clean Water Associate at Environmental Advocates NY.

“For far too long, lead pipes delivering drinking water to our homes have been a clear and present danger. The Lead Pipe Right to Know Bill is an important step to solving this problem because knowing how many lead pipes are out there and where they are will allow us to have an informed conversation about the cost and financing options to remove them once and for all.  We salute Senator Rivera and Assemblymember Paulin for shining a light on this critical issue and hope that Governor Hochul signs it quickly,” said Julie Tighe of New York League of Conservation Voters.

“New York State has been dealing with the issue of lead poisoning for far too long. We need to have a complete and public map of lead service lines to homes to ensure that they are replaced with nontoxic materials for our community members.” said Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director of Clean+Healthy and co-lead of Lead Free Kids NY, “This legislation would be a step towards increasing transparency about the issue of lead in our water and enabling accurate and public data on where lead service lines are.”

“The lack of data when it comes to the location of lead service lines hinders efforts to secure safe drinking water because you can’t replace lines if you don’t know where they are. Although every state, including New York, uses lead service lines, most states do not track this public health threat,” said Joan Leary Matthews, Senior Attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The Lead Pipe Right to Know Act is a game-changer for New York because it requires public water systems to inventory their lead service lines and make that information available to the public – something never done before throughout the state. Governor Hochul must sign this bill immediately so that New Yorkers can know about their risk of lead exposure.”

Liz Moran, New York Policy Advocate for Earthjustice, said, “Knowledge is power, and a fundamental step to ensuring the public has clean, safe, water, is to arm them with knowledge about the quality of their water, and the infrastructure delivering it. For too long, New Yorkers have been in the dark about whether or not they are being served by lead service lines, the leading cause of lead in drinking water. This key piece of legislation ensures that families have access to data on lead service lines and can make informed decisions to protect their health. It will also aid local governments, and the state, in implementing the solution – to replace all lead service lines. We applaud the bill sponsors, Senator Rivera and Assemblymember Paulin, for championing this bill and the legislature for passing it. Now, Governor Hochul must further the state’s work to address lead by signing it swiftly into law.”

Maureen Cunningham, Chief Strategy Officer and Director of Water at Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC), said “New York’s outsized number of lead pipes accounts for a large share of the nation’s total. We need to ensure a comparable effort is made to replace them to reduce the risk of lead poisoning for all New Yorkers. What better way to do this more effectively than by ensuring transparency and accountability with the Lead Pipe Right to Know Act.”