Helping Consumers Make Informed
Property owners and consumers need reliable and timely information about lead service lines (LSLs). They need to understand the risk posed by an LSL, why it is in their interest to have it replaced, and what they need to do to make it happen. This information is important when making decisions about the property, including whether to buy it, rent it, remodel it, work at it, send their children to it, or eat at it. Without this information, they may be reluctant to cooperate with an LSL replacement initiative and even less likely to pay for a portion of the costs.
For a property owner, an LSL is essentially a liability, something that reduces the value of the property to consumers who drink the water. However, it only affects the value if people know an LSL is present, especially when someone is making a decision whether to live there. For that reason, disclosure of the LSL is essential.
A utility can and should disclose what is known about the presence of an LSL to the person who pays the bills, most likely the property owner. For owner-occupied housing, the property owner and the person who drinks the water are the same. But often, the utility does not have a direct relationship with the property owner’s consumers, such as tenants, patrons at a restaurant, employees at an office, or parents of children at a childcare center or school.
Where there is no direct relationship, as long as consumers do not know the water passes through an LSL, the property owner has little financial incentive to replace it. For that reason, making the location of LSLs publicly available in a manner that the property owner’s customers can easily access is a powerful tool in building support for a long-term LSL replacement initiative.
In a world when you can already easily see on-line photos of the outside of most homes or use real estate search engines to learn the number of bedrooms in a home or how it is heated, revealing the presence of an LSL does not appear to raise significant privacy issues. After all, the LSL is a legacy from when the building was constructed, not a choice made by the current occupant.
On-line maps showing what is known and, just as importantly, not known about the service line is a significant first step. Making the information publicly available in familiar mapping formats should not only provide an incentive to have the LSL replaced, but it should encourage people to find out whether a property has one and keep the utility informed so it has the latest information.
Because of the impact on consumer choices and, indirectly, on property values, public disclosures are best done regionally. If only one city or utility does it, there could be an impression that adjacent communities do not have LSLs simply because they are not publicly disclosing them. State or national standards would likely be fairest.
Public disclosure is not without its potential downsides. Some important ones to consider are: