17 water systems with spiking lead call Pa. county home

October 27th, 2017 by Steve

Adam Duvernay, USA TODAY NETWORKPublished 4:10 p.m. ET March 16, 2016 | Updated 6:33 p.m. ET March 16, 2016

LANCASTER, Pa. — When crews exhumed a lead water main from beneath a city street, it spewed water that would have come out of a residential tap.

City of Lancaster officials said the water would have been safe to drink because it’s treated with anti-corrosive chemicals before circulation to the 45,000 connections the system serves. Nevertheless, the city has replaced most of its pipes because officials say it is the right thing to do.

Just 2% are still lead.

The water system pumping through the heart of Lancaster County has not seen lead levels above EPA standards for four years. That’s good news in a part of the country where children’s blood lead levels are alarming. Researchers blame most of that contamination on paint.

But water in the county as a whole is another story.

“We don’t make coffee with it. We don’t drink it,” said Rick Donnelly, safety director for BJ Baldwin Electric in Narvon, Pa. “We all know it. It was one of the first things I learned here my first day.”

Across Lancaster County, 17 water systems have found high lead levels in drinking water 27 times between 2012 and 2015, according to EPA data the USA TODAY NETWORK analyzed. None of the county’s large or municipal water systems had high lead levels, but the number of instances countywide tied Middlesex County, Mass., for second among all counties across the USA.

Only Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, was higher at 34.

Some of Lancaster County’s water systems serve as few as 25 people, the minimum requiring state supervision for contamination. Others serve entire subdivisions, businesses and seven schools.

“We don’t want it to be that way. If we could choose a good water source we would,” Donnelly said. “But it is what’s here, and it’s what’s always been here, unfortunately.”

The 600-acre Lanchester Landfill bought and installed a water filtration for his company’s well.

Pennsylvania officials said 14.4% of the 213 water systems in the county tested high for lead in the past decade compared to 13.1% of water systems in the region.

Lancaster County with a population of more than 533,000 about 60 miles west of Philadelphia shares its long highways and rural roads with many tourists. They come for a glimpse of the carts and buggies that ferry the county’s Amish between their rustic farms and boutique businesses.

Nearly 5,300 farms helped the county become first in the nation to reach the 100,000-acre mark for preserved agriculture land.

Testing at BJ Baldwin has revealed high lead levels at least once a year since 2013. Results that came back in January from Pure-Test Water Laboratory in Myerstown, Pa., again showed lead levels beyond the EPA’s action level at three of the five taps tested the month before.

Testing at the landfill wells has not revealed similar contamination, and the state doesn’t believe a connection exists between the landfill and the lead in the water at the electrical contractor, said John Repetz, state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman.

Landfill management have a plan in the works to pipe water from adjacent Chester County though officials said tapping a new water supply would happen only to eliminate the cost of testing.

“They know that there’s a problem. It’s not a secret in any way, shape or form in this area,” Donnelly said. “Even the residents around here know.”

The source of contamination elsewhere in the county is easier to identify — corrosive water that leaches lead from a building’s pipes — said Rodney Nesmith, a regional manager for Pennsylvania’s Safe Drinking Water Program.

“To me, Lancaster County is average. I don’t see them standing out at all,” Nesmith said.

Paradise Elementary School in the town of Paradise, Pa., was built in 2009, more than a decade after a 1986 ban on lead solder in construction. But the school’s drinking water has tested for high lead levels since the year it opened.

The school serves 487 students.

After exceeding acceptable lead levels of lead in 2009, 2011, 2012 and again in 2015, the school organized a study of its water system. The study found that the school was treating the water to soften it, making it more corrosive.

Now only the boiler water is treated that way, and three of the four most recent samples showed no lead. The sample that did come up positive measured 2 parts per billion, well below the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb.

Building codes require lead-free components, but Nesmith said that doesn’t mean those components have zero lead. Brass fixtures contain lead but at levels low enough to pass the lead-free bar.

However, corrosive water still can leach lead from new metal pipes.

That’s apparently what happened in 2013 at the Manheim Auto Auction water system, which serves 4,000 customers just outside the city of Lancaster.

Manheim investigated the source of the lead and replaced seven sink faucets. Retesting showed lead levels had dropped, general manager Joey Hughes said.

View the full article HERE.

Filed under: Lead Testing, North American Markets

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