Federal loan helps Claremont continue lead removal efforts

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 05-28-2024 6:00 PM

CLAREMONT — The city received a $2.15 million loan from the federal Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month that will fund continuing efforts to eliminate lead in the lines and connections of the city’s drinking water system.

The money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is part of more than $28 million awarded to New Hampshire for lead pipe identification and replacement by the Biden Administration.

Claremont Department of Public Works Director Alex Gleeson said $750,000 of the loan will replace about 100 lead service lines and the remainder of the money will be used for water infrastructure upgrades, including new mains.

Lead is considered a neurotoxin and its presence in water pipes can cause health problems including damage to the brain, organs and soft tissues, as well as more serious long-term effects.

Claremont got involved in the national “Get the Lead Out” program in 2016 and initially identified about 120 service connections, which link the mains in the street to the service lines on the property, as having lead. Depending on where the main is, that connection could be a few feet or the width of the street. In 2017, 34 service connections were replaced and over the next four years, about another 45 were completed. Gleeson said the work is different for each property and can include digging up a sidewalk in addition to the street.

“It can take at least a half day for most,” he said.

Gleeson said the EPA made changes in the regulatory requirements in 2021, and municipalities must now replace the connections and the service line to the meter in the house if there is lead present in either or both. Prior to the new ruling, the DPW was not required to go on private property. Lebanon and Canaan also are working on removing lead from the piping in their water systems.

With scope of the required work expanded by the new rules, Claremont identified an additional 100 service lines needing attention, bringing the total to 220, Gleeson said. The complete inventory of the lines and connections must be submitted to the EPA in October.

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“With the initial service line inventory completed there were 216 identified known lead lines for replacement and the city is working to identify the status of unknown lines,” Gleeson said. “There isn’t a specific timeline as of yet from the EPA as the regulations are currently in the processes of being finalized. The city is hitting all the required benchmarks needed so far, and we are continuously working on these efforts moving forward with the state and local engineers.”   

In January, water customers received a notice from the city’s consulting engineers, Dufresne Group, seeking assistance in identifying lead service lines. The letter explained simple steps that can be taken using a key, coin or magnet on the connection where it enters the house or building to determine if the line is lead or another material such as copper. There are about 3,000 customers on the city’s public water supply.

The $2.15 million loan through the state’s Revolving Loan Fund has a 30-year term with a 2.5% interest rate. Gleeson said the actual payback is estimated to be about $1.2 million after principal forgiveness and use of a $350,000 grant from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The city also has been proactive in remediating lead paint in homes, making it a community wide priority in 2016. Former Mayor Charlene Lovett spearheaded the effort and in 2017, Claremont became the first community in New Hampshire to require children entering pre-K and kindergarten to have lead screenings. Lead in paint was banned in 1978, but most of Claremont's housing stock was constructed before that.

Gleeson is not certain how many more years it will take to remove all lead from the city’s water system, but said Claremont is ahead of most communities in addressing the problem of lead.

“We are considered by DES (state Department of Environmental Services) to be kind of the poster child for getting the lead out of our distribution system,” Gleeson said. “A lot of people ask us questions and look at us as an example to follow.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.