Saturday, September 19, 2020

Elevated lead levels found in drinking water from local homes

Town water supply is clean and safe

by Mark Reaman

For the second time since 1993 some homes in Crested Butte have tested positive for lead in the houses’ water. Tests conducted in 2019 indicated the water in three local homes tested in the 90th percentile for the lead action level exceedance. The last time the levels exceeded national regulations was 2011, when three houses tested over the safe limit. The town’s main water supply is also tested regularly, with no signs of lead contamination, so the issue is contained to individual houses with older plumbing.

The town is required to test 20 homes in town for lead twice a year. The town focuses those tests on a pool of 40 homes considered higher risk structures because they were built between 1983 and 1987. That is when copper pipes that used soldering containing lead were used for plumbing. That solder was banned in 1987.

Public Works director Shea Earley reported to the council at the January 21 meeting that no lead or copper measurements had exceeded the 90th percentile action level since 2011 and now there were three homes over the limit. “We want to emphasize that this is specific to certain homes,” he said. “The town drinking water is fine. This is about the plumbing inside people’s houses.”

Earley said the town was notified by the state of the action level exceedance and was instructed to take several actions, including continuing the regular monitoring of the water; come up with an Optimal Corrosion Control Treatment Recommendation that could reduce the amount of lead solder that contaminates the drinking water from the pipes; and getting the word out through extensive public outreach.

The treatment plan will entail the town hiring an engineer to come up with recommendations before June 30.

Town officials are advising residents who may be concerned about elevated levels of lead in their drinking water to run their water for 15 to 30 seconds or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature, to flush out lead before using the water for drinking or cooking.

“The best thing people who are concerned can do is not fill up their glass with drinking water straight from the tap without running it,” Earley explained. “If the water sits in the pipes it can get contaminated so the best thing to do is turn on the tap and let the water run. Wait until the water gets cold so you know that the water that was sitting in the pipes gets flushed out. You can also conduct tests on your water if you want as well. But anyone with concerns should feel free to give us a call.”

The Environmental Protection Agency had set a maximum of 15 parts per billion of lead in water and water from three of the Crested Butte houses exceeded that. Town staff is currently conducting studies to determine the optimal corrosion control treatment of the water on plumbing materials.

Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources, especially for pregnant women and children six years and younger. Lead can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead more than healthy adults. Boiling water will not get rid of the lead but certain water filters can help.

The town plans to include educational information about lead in drinking water in Crested Butte utility billing notices in the near future. They also plan an extensive public outreach program through local media sources. Residents who would like more information about where they can have their water tested should contact the town Public Works Department at 349-5338.

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