UM startup BlueConduit joins White House partnership to find, remove lead pipes across US
A University of Michigan startup that helped accelerate the removal of dangerous lead pipes in Flint and many other communities has joined a White House partnership aimed at replacing all of the nation’s lead service lines in a decade.
Eric Schwartz, BlueConduit’s co-founder and an associate professor of marketing at U-M’s Ross School of Business, gathered last week with representatives of roughly 100 other organizations at a summit to launch the Biden-Harris Get the Lead Out Partnership. The public-private initiative aims to expedite the removal of lead in drinking water—a problem that rose to national prominence when lead was discovered in Flint’s drinking water several years ago and spurred a public health crisis.
The summit featured discussions with federal, state and local officials, as well as water utility, labor union and non-governmental organizations on reducing risks to public health posed by lead pipes.
In December 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency released its Lead and Copper Rule Revision, which requires all US water systems to develop lead service line inventories by October 2024. The EPA included BlueConduit’s work and predictive modeling in its Service Line Inventory Guidance.
The water analytics company originated the approach of using machine learning to predict the location of lead pipes and is working with cities to help meet their inventory deadline.
“BlueConduit’s mission focuses on using data science and innovation to enable and empower communities to get the lead out, efficiently and equitably,” Schwartz said. “This partnership is a crucial step in combating lead exposure in our country, multiplying our combined efforts to exponentially reduce the number of days families live with the risk.”
Michigan cities that have joined the effort are Flint, Ann Arbor, Detroit and Benton Harbor.
BlueConduit began lead pipe predictions in 2016 in Flint. Its software has supported over 100 communities in the United States and Canada to reduce the number of days residents live with the risk of lead exposure.
“It’s estimated there are 6-12 million lead pipes carrying water to millions of people, but finding exactly where the lead pipes are has been a massive challenge. It can take cities years to find and replace them, costing tens of millions of dollars,” Schwartz said.
BlueConduit also announced it is building a lead service line inventory and will publish it this year as an open-sourced, nationwide map. This mapping will enable utilities to locate lead lines more accurately, boosting the speed and reducing the cost of pipe replacement.
Schwartz’s research focuses on the use of quantitative methods to examine and try to predict customer behavior. He uses tools including machine learning and other statistical studies to understand what drives the consumer decision-making process.