Trouble getting the lead out — The Pueblo Chieftain

Roman lead pipe -- Photo via the Science Museum
Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From the Associated Press (Ryan J. Foley and Meghan Hoyer) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

This railroad town promotes its ties to Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and the poet Carl Sandburg. But Galesburg’s long history also shows in a hidden way: Aging pipes have been [leaching] lead into the drinking water for decades.

Blood tests show cause for concern. One in 20 children under the age of 6 in Knox County had lead levels exceeding the state standard for public health intervention, a rate six times higher than the Illinois average, in 2014.

Galesburg offers just one example of how the problem of lead-tainted drinking water goes far beyond Flint, Mich., the former auto manufacturing center where the issue exploded into a public health emergency when the city’s entire water system was declared unsafe.

An Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data found that nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.6 million Americans exceeded the federal lead standard at least once between Jan. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30. The affected systems are large and small, public and private, and include 278 systems that are owned and operated by schools and day care centers in 41 states.

Galesburg officials downplay the water’s potential contribution to lead poisoning, which can affect children’s mental development. But city councilor Peter Schwartzman called the AP’s findings alarming.

“Most people in Galesburg are not really being told that there is a problem,” said Schwartzman, an environmental scientist. “I’m very close to this and didn’t know it. I feel ignorant.”

The AP reviewed 25 years of sampling data reported by 75,000 drinking water systems that are subject to a federal lead rule that took effect in 1991. Details of the EPA data were first reported by USA Today.

While no amount of lead exposure is considered safe, the rule calls for water systems to keep levels below 15 parts per billion.

If more than 10 percent of sampled high-risk homes are above that level, water agencies must inform customers about the problem and take steps such as adding chemicals to control corrosion and prevent leaching of the lead.

In Galesburg, a community of 31,000 about 200 miles southwest of Chicago, lead levels have exceeded the federal standard in 22 out of 30 testing periods since 1992. City officials say their ground water and water mains are lead-free, but the toxin enters the supply in service lines that deliver water from the streets to 4,700 homes. Lead-based plumbing fixtures that were common in homes built before 1980 also contribute.

In a statement, the EPA said events in Flint and elsewhere have raised questions about how the lead rule has been implemented. The agency is considering changes to the rule and urging state water regulators to improve lead monitoring.

But the ultimate solution is expensive: It will take billions of dollars to replace millions of miles of lead service lines throughout the country. Those are the lines that connect water mains to homes, schools and businesses, remnants from a time when scientists didn’t understand the dangers caused by lead.

Water operators sought to distance their systems from the situation in Flint, saying they were taking actions to reduce lead.

“We try to minimize it, whatever our contribution is” to childhood lead poisoning, said Joseph Bella, executive director of the Passaic Valley Water Commission in New Jersey, which has repeatedly exceeded the standard.

Lead problems have been particularly persistent in Massachusetts communities outside Boston such as Malden, Winthrop and Chelsea, which have repeatedly exceeded the limit. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which serves those cities, announced a program last month to make $100 million available in interest-free loans to replace lead service lines.

The crisis in Flint, where residents have been without tap water for months, has highlighted how tainted water can poison children. Even low levels have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via

About two dozen Colorado water systems have reported lead levels that exceed federal guidelines, but officials say the lead usually comes from pipes in older buildings and isn’t in the water supply itself.

An Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data found that nationwide, nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.6 million Americans have exceeded the federal lead standard at least once between Jan. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2015. They include 278 systems that are owned and operated by schools and day care centers in 41 states.

In Colorado, 22 or 23 water systems reported lead levels that require them to take further steps, said Ron Falco, manager of the state Safe Drinking Water Program.

Lead problems have been detected in Colorado water systems serving a combined population of about 45,000, according to federal data, although a handful of systems serving about 9,000 people said the levels listed for their operations in the EPA data was incorrect…

Lead problems are less extensive in Colorado than in other areas because many of the state’s homes are new – built to house its booming population – and don’t use lead in their pipes, Falco said.

The town of Firestone reported a lead level of 34 parts per billion in 2015, according to the EPA data. The town said 11 older homes had lead in their water exceeding the federal standard.

Firestone’s supplier, Central Weld County Water District, began adding a corrosion-control chemical to the water in October, and the number of homes in which lead was found in the water dropped to six, Mayor Paul Sorensen said in a statement.

“It is our hope that this additive to our water supply will continue to reduce the lead levels inside these older homes,” he said.

A few small Colorado schools with their own water systems also reported lead levels above 15 parts per billion.

The Valley School District in northeastern Colorado has filtered water delivered to the Caliche school in Iliff. The building, which houses elementary and high schools, reported lead levels from 16 to 20 parts per billion in 2014 and 2015, according to the EPA.

The school district expects to start construction this summer on a new water treatment system for the school, Superintendent Jan DeLay said.

Here’s an FAQ about the federal rules for lean from the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette.

From The Durango Herald (Shane Benjamin)

None of the 36 water systems operating in La Plata County have exceeded federal lead limits since 2013, but two systems reported spikes from samples taken in 2012.

According to data maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Glacier Club and Durango West II Metropolitan District each had one water sample that exceeded the federal action limit of 15 parts per billion in their most recent sample periods.

In both cases, the spikes were isolated to one household as opposed to the entire water system or a section of the water system. Further testing was required, but once the high readings were isolated to individual homes, no further action was required.

The city of Durango, which operates the largest water system in the county, has not had any detectable lead in its water samples since at least 1992, according to EPA data.

A water sample taken in 2012 from a home in Durango West II subdivision, which serves 930 people, registered 45 parts per billion of lead.

Tyler Whitt, district water and wastewater operator, said a couple of residents installed water softeners, which increases the likelihood of elements being leached from plumbing inside the house, especially if faucets contain lead. Property owners with water softeners were notified of the high readings, he said.

There are no lead pipes in the ground and no lead coming from the source well, he said…

A similar situation occurred with the Glacier Club water system, which serves about 525 people.

The district did its regular testing in September 2012 at five locations specified by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. One of the five homes had a high reading for lead, said Dave Harris, attorney for the Glacier Club.

“Prior to this incident, we’ve never had a lead-related incident, and subsequent to it, we’ve never had a lead-related violation,” he said.

After the high reading, the district went back to the residence and tested the same faucet and a different faucet. The faucet that was high in September 2012 was still high, but the other faucet inside the house was 87 percent lower for lead, Harris said.

“Our conclusion was clearly the faucet that had the higher lead content had some lead solder in it,” he said.