Connecting Waterpeople

Rockefeller Foundation commits $1M to expand BlueConduit’s AI-based solution

  • Rockefeller Foundation commits $1M to expand BlueConduit’s AI-based solution
  • BlueConduit’s innovative approach to replace 5 million service lines affecting 10 million homes helps utilities avoid digging the wrong place, saving up to 70%.

About the entity

Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation has built a reputation as a trailblazer that convenes unlikely partnerships and sparks innovations for transformative change.
Schneider Electric

The Rockefeller Foundation announced $1 million to scale BlueConduit’s artificial intelligence-centered approach to identifying and removing lead pipes affecting 10 million homes across the United States. Alongside its machine learning analysis, BlueConduit will provide free data analytics tools and outreach through education programs in under-resourced communities, with an interactive map of where lead in water infrastructure is concentrated. BlueConduit’s approach has helped cut costs by up to 70% when compared to the traditional approach of removing lead pipes in U.S. cities, stretching each city and water system’s budget farther to reduce total lead exposure.

This new effort builds upon the impact and lessons learned from The Rockefeller Foundation’s initial funding of $200,000 in 2020 to BlueConduit, along with additional philanthropic capital from Google.org and the Kresge Foundation. In the two years since the initial funding, BlueConduit successfully inventoried half a million water service pipes in target cities Detroit and Benton Harbor, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; and Trenton, N.J., where more than a total of one million people are impacted. In Detroit alone, city officials project BlueConduit’s proprietary machine learning analysis will save the city and taxpayers millions by avoiding digging in the wrong place. BlueConduit’s analysis has already led to the successful removal of around 20,000 lead pipes throughout the United States to date.

“BlueConduit has used machine learning to remove lead service lines with big gains in efficiency and cost-effectiveness, giving communities cleaner water and overcoming long-standing public health inequities,” said Zia Khan, Senior Vice President of Innovation at The Rockefeller Foundation. “We’re proud to have supported this solution’s development. We’re now excited to help scale it beyond Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio and improve the lives of millions of additional Americans”

According to the White House, there are currently an estimated 10 million homes in the United States that connect to led pipes and service lines, which makes them vulnerable to the health risks associated with lead exposure. Exposure to lead causes approximately 400,000 deaths per year, of which 20 percent of lead exposure may be attributed to lead in drinking water, potentially resulting in 80,000 deaths per year. Additionally, an analysis of the costs of lead exposure calculates the economic loss from lead is approximately $84 billion per year in medical and welfare costs, lower worker productivity, and premature deaths linked to lead exposure. BlueConduit aims to identify and replace 5 million pipes around the country.

“This funding from The Rockefeller Foundation comes at a pivotal time in our nation’s progress toward a lead-free future and the growth of BlueConduit. We now have the opportunity to both efficiently and equitably remove lead pipes from the drinking water system at a national scale,” said Eric Schwartz, BlueConduit Co-Founder and associate professor of marketing at Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. “We are thrilled to leverage this new funding to put those who are most vulnerable to lead exposure through tainted pipes, which they rely on for their drinking water, at the front of the line as we continue to scale up lead pipe removal nationwide.”

Over the course of five years, BlueConduit will:

  • Provide free access to BlueConduit free tier, an open-source lead-service inventory tool.

With this tool, anyone can access BlueConduit’s cutting-edge analytics and predictions for free, ensuring that disadvantaged communities are able to identify led pipes as efficiently and affordably as possible.

  • Launch a nationwide public-facing interactive map of lead service line inventories and state responses to water contamination.

This map will operate as a transparent scorecard for tracking the status of individual state/municipal lead eradication programs. This new map will democratize data, build public support, maintain government accountability, and work as an accessible, key resource for policymakers and others to track progress.

  • Increase outreach and educational programming to expand awareness and understanding of BlueConduit’s tools.

In addition to educating residents, media, and community organizations on the lead pipe crisis in their communities, BlueConduit will ensure its tools are effectively incorporated. By the end of 2022, BlueConduit will conduct outreach to at least 15 under-resourced communities.

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