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Lead drinking water pipes remain in parts of county

April 14, 2016
By Jimmy McCarthy (editorial@westfieldrepublican.com) , Westfield Republican

Concerns over public drinking water supplies and contamination are on the rise after the recent events that unraveled in Flint, Mich.

However, an aggressive testing and surveillance program in Chautauqua County is working to ensure any problems, whether lead- or blue-green-algae related, are mitigated and resolved.

Bill Boria, county water resource specialist, said the county's water infrastructure doesn't contain lead water main pipes, but there are some lead service lines that run from mains to homes. Boria said environmental health staff will be surveying public water supply owners and operators.

"It's one of the things we're following up on partly because of Flint, and partly because the state and the EPA want us to take a closer look at lead and copper issues in the county," Boria said. "In the village of Sherman, they have no lead service lines or lead connections. There are some lead service lines in the north county. We're going to be surveying the municipal water supplies to find out if they do have any. It's not very common, but we've had a few and addressed them when they've come up."

According to the EPA, lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures.

Chautauqua County is one of 36 counties in the state that oversees its public drinking water systems. Full-service county health departments like Chautauqua County's can provide assistance by issuing formal notices and reminders to public water supply owners of all their testing and reporting requirements.

"The job we do in the county is comparable to what the state of Michigan does in Flint," Boria said. "We do all the inspections and make sure everyone is in compliance. We have a good relationship with all the operators. I think that helps."

Lead can enter the body through eating, breathing and drinking. Too much lead exposure can cause serious damage to the brain, nervous system and red blood cells. Lead is a particular problem within Chautauqua County's older homes, in which lead-based paint was used. Lead exposure to children in the county is particularly high.

In July 1991, the EPA established an action level for lead in public drinking water at 15 micrograms per liter, or 15 parts per billion. Water suppliers are required to test household tap water to check lead levels. If levels in the water are above EPA action level and cannot be quickly corrected, the water supplier is required to notify homeowners and take steps to reduce lead levels in drinking water.

In 2014, federal law mandated that pipes, fixtures and fittings for water applications contain no more than 0.25 percent lead by weight.

If a municipal water supply has lead pipes, Boria said they're required to have 50 percent of their test sample from homes that have lead in their service lines. The other samples come from tier 1 homes, which have copper pipes and lead-soldered joints built before 1987.

"The oldest service lines are going to be made out of lead pipe," Boria said. "Then they started using galvanized pipe and copper pipe. Most of them now use plastic. They used copper for many years, but the price of copper has gone up."

The health, welfare and safety of all residents is a top priority for the environmental health staff, according to Vince Horrigan, county executive. Having county health departments directly involved in water quality assurance is advantageous, Horrigan said.

"Our staff has special relationships with the plant operators and our public systems," Horrigan said. "They know any challenges that people face out there and pay close attention to it. I feel good about the work that we do in assuring the safety of our public water system."

The county Health Department is also continuing to examine algae in Chautauqua County, specifically blue-green algae toxins. Boria said they've been working with the Chautauqua Utility District treatment plant, which serves Chautauqua Institution, on a study that monitors blue-green algae.

"They did extensive sampling," he said. "What we found there was the water treatment plant was doing a good job at removing the chemicals, blue-green algae toxins, so we were getting no detections in the finished water."

 
 
 

 

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