SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Target 6.1 By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.

It depends on where you live. NYC water is sourced from The Catskill Mountains and is some of the cleanest water in the country, at least until it gets into your home. That is where the lead begins. Service lines connecting homes to streets installed before 1961 and plumbing installed before 1987 may contain lead. To see if there is lead in your water you can order a free Lead Test Kit from NYC:

Other towns such as Newark or Flint know about the lead in their tap water thanks to improperly managed water systems. Unfortunately, the water problem in these two cities is more common then we realize. In 2015, there were 81,000 Safe Drinking Water Act violations reported at 18,000 of the nation’s 52,000 community water systems. These violations effect nearly 25% of the U.S. population1. To make matters worse, included in the statistics are 8,000 Lead and Copper violations which effect over 18 million people. 

People most affected by water violations live in the following states:

1. Texas
2. Florida
3. Pennsylvania
4. New Jersey
5. Georgia

Why is there lead in water?

Lead in water has been a problem dating back to Roman times. In the U.S. the earliest health concerns were raised in 1859, but there was no effort to ban or limit lead plumbing until the 1920s. In 1925 the lead industry responded to the threat of new regulations by forming The Lead Industries Association (LIA).

The LIA was a trade organization that promoted the interests of the lead industry by lobbying to lift bans on, and promote the use of, lead pipes and lead-based paints. This is why the federal government didn’t completely ban the use of lead in household plumbing until 1986 (lead paint was banned in 1978). In 2002, the LIA went bankrupt citing that they were unable to get insurance to cover the litigation against them.

Thanks to the work of the LIA, today there are six to ten million lead service lines in use throughout the United States2These service lines are the leading cause of lead contaminated drinking water. The cost to replace one service line is based upon length and location. In NYC the replacement cost can range from $5,000 to $10,000 per lead service line3. If you do the math, the cost to replace all lead service lines in the U.S. would range from $30 billion to $100 billion.

The cost of lead pipe eradication generally falls on the homeowner or municipality. This is why poorer cities and towns have more serious issues with lead pipes than their affluent neighbors. Without federal government dollars or help from not for profit organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund the situation in these communities will remain unchanged.

Flint Four Years Later

After spending $400 million there are still an estimated 2,500 lead service lines in place which the city expects to finish replacing by July 2020.

There were many criminal and civil lawsuits filed in the years since 2016, however, most of the criminal charges have been either downgraded to misdemeanors in plea deals or dismissed. The most notable criminal case still open is Nick Lyon’s, who was Michigan’s State Health Director. He is being charged with manslaughter in the death of two men because he failed to issue a timely public alert. The case is still pending.

Numerous class action lawsuits have been filed against the city of Flint and its government officials accusing them of knowingly allowing the city’s water supply to become contaminated with lead. The plaintiffs recently won a significant victory in the U.S. Supreme Court. The City and City Officials claimed immunity, however the Court ruled in the Plaintiffs favor referencing the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of due process under the law, which can protect people from government-induced harm to their personal security or health, a legal principle known as “bodily integrity.”4 Apparently poisoning one’s populations water falls under this statute.


Is my water safe? The answer is, it has more to do with where you live than any other factor. If you live in New Jersey, an old declining city or where lead service lines are still in place, the answer is probably no. However, the only way to know for sure is to test your tap water for lead and obtain water quality reports from your community water system.


The above article is intended to raise awareness that the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) apply locally as much as globally and is not intended to present a solution. Solutions for SDGs are as diverse as the groups impacted, so I leave it to the reader to find their own SDG solution. Whether it’s activism, volunteering or investing, any contribution will make an impact.

For more information on this topic or impact investing contact ESGA at