Revolutionizing Lead Detection: Solving the Hidden Threat for Public and Environmental Health with our 2023 Open Innovation Challenge

June 19, 2023

In recent years, environmental exposure to lead has become a paramount concern. The most vulnerable populations, including children up to age 6 and pregnant women, are at the greatest risk. Numerous federal regulations since the 1950s have aimed to decrease or eliminate the use of lead in products like gasoline, household paint, and toys. However, one challenge remains: detecting lead service lines without breaking ground.


Since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, lead issues in water have come to the forefront of environmental and public health concerns. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supporting the implementation of stricter regulations surrounding the elimination of water service lines made from lead to further mitigate potential exposure through drinking water. As per the Federal Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (FLCRR) of 2021, all water utilities across the country are required to map their service line materials and provide that inventory to the EPA by October 16, 2024.


The challenge, however, lies in the fact that the only way to accurately verify the service line material type requires at least basic excavation, which involves significant expenses. For many public water systems (PWS), these costs are unmanageable, often reaching upwards of $1,800 per line for a visual inspection, translating to a visual-inspection cost of $450M - $900M for mid-size PWS with a quarter to a half-million service lines.


Therefore, an innovative solution is required - one that can detect service line materials in situ, without the need for excavation. This solution must be able to differentiate between lines comprised of lead, copper, and galvanized steel, with an accuracy of 90% or greater, and without relying on broader data inputs such as statistical or AI-prediction methods. Moreover, the solution needs to be portable, power-efficient, and must deliver results in real-time or within two weeks of detection activities.


This issue presents an opportunity for groundbreaking (without breaking ground) technology to revolutionize the way we approach public health and environmental safety. By creatively addressing this challenge, we can build a safer future for all.

A call has now been made for innovative minds to join CWA's Open Innovator Challenge. Those who can deliver innovative concepts for tools, technologies, and processes that can viably address this need, bearing in mind the technical and market considerations outlined, may be selected to receive grants to create prototypes or support other aspects of product development and commercialization.

Learn More about the 2023 Open Innovation Challenge

Ultimately, the solutions we find today will pave the way for a safer tomorrow, creating a world where public health and environmental safety are not compromised by the invisible threat of lead in our service lines. The future of lead detection is on the horizon, and with it, an era of improved public health and safety.

This challenge represents an exciting opportunity for those at the cutting edge of technology and innovation, offering the chance to shape a safer future for us all. We invite you to join us in this pivotal endeavor.


To learn more about this exciting opportunity visit our Open Innovation Challenge web page and watch our recent informational webinar with Industry Expert Brenda Culler, Lead Program Manager at Cleveland Water. This webinar discusses the lead service line issues and answers questions about the Open Innovation Challenge.

Learn more about the 2023 Open Innovation Challenge

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