Michigan State University and Altarum to Assess Economic Impacts of Michigan’s Lead and Copper Rule

Research will provide an estimate of the economic benefits of replacing the estimated 460,000 lead service lines in Michigan.

October 30, 2019

Ann Arbor, MI — Led by Michigan State University pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a multidisciplinary team from MSU and Hurley Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Public Health Initiative, Safe Water Engineering, and Altarum will conduct a detailed analysis of the economic costs and benefits of implementing the 2018 Lead and Copper Rule that directs Michigan’s utilities to replace all lead service lines by 2041. The results of the study, funded by the CS Mott Foundation, will be available in Spring 2020.

“We all know that lead is a potent poison with no safe level. Yet for too many Michigan children, lead service lines are the straw that delivers their drinking water,” said Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics and human development at MSU College of Human Medicine. “This research will add the economic benefits of lead service line replacement to the already well-established health and development benefits of lead elimination and will hopefully serve to more swiftly and thoroughly implement the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule.”

This analysis will build on research Altarum conducted for the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2017, 10 Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure, which includes a cost-benefit analysis of various policies to prevent and respond to childhood lead exposure, including removing leaded drinking water service lines. The analysis showed that targeted removal of household lead water service lines nationwide could provide long-term economic returns that exceed the costs of replacing the lines.

Earlier this year, Altarum released state-level estimates of the costs and economic benefits of replacing 18,700 lead service lines in one year, about 4% of the total. This work showed that targeted lead service line replacement in Michigan would provide a net economic benefit of more than $48 million and yield a return of $1.4 per dollar invested. Altarum generated these state-level results using its economic evaluation tools, including the Value of Health, and they are currently available online at ValueofLeadPrevention.org.

On the heels of the Flint water crisis, Michigan adopted the most stringent Lead and Copper Rule in the country, mandating improved lead in water testing, creation of lead service line inventories, replacement of lead pipes, and improved public notification. “Now that water utilities throughout the state are implementing the new sampling requirements, they are finding higher lead levels in the water,” said Elin Betanzo, a water quality expert at Safe Water Engineering. “This demonstrates the importance of identifying and removing lead service lines as required in the new rule.” Current estimates put the total number of lead service lines in Michigan at 460,000.

The forthcoming analysis will assess the 2018 Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, provide a more detailed economic assessment of comprehensive lead service line replacement in Michigan, and inform plans to most optimally replace the state’s lead service lines.

“Some have argued that the cost of replacing lead service lines is too high, but the data tell us the opposite: the cost of not replacing them is much higher,” said George Miller, a research fellow at Altarum. “Our research will provide even more detailed estimates of the long-term economic benefits of lead service line replacement for Michigan that policymakers can use to ensure future generations are protected against lead exposure.” 

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state agencies and foundations to design and implement solutions to improve the health of individuals with fewer financial resources and populations disenfranchised by the health care system. We achieve measurable results by combining our expertise in public health and health care delivery with technology, workforce training and continuing education, applied research, and technical assistance. Our innovative solutions lead to better health for beneficiaries and better value for payers.