The City of Flint, Michigan, and the levels of lead in their public water supply has been talked about in the news a lot lately. The EPA states that “lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead.” The governor of Michigan has declared a State of Emergency in Genesee County, home of Flint, “due to the introduction of lead into the public water system and subsequently elevated blood lead levels exceeding governmental standards.” However, there has been a lot of misinformation and/or questions that have been raised as conversations have been started nationwide about the safety of our public drinking water, especially concerning lead. Below, we’re going to answer some of the general questions that have been brought up in discussion.
What happened to the water in Flint, Michigan?
The City of Flint, Michigan historically purchased treated water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). This water was sourced from Lake Huron before being processed, treated, and piped into the City of Flint. In April 2014, Flint switched their water source to the Flint River. This water had a lower pH and an increased salinity, which caused the protective oxide and phosphate coatings on older pipes and solder to degrade, exposing lead surfaces. Complete treatment of the water from the Flint River, including the addition of anti-corrosion agents was not conducted. Flint switched back to the DWSD water in October 2015, following complaints from many residents about taste, color, and odor. However, the damage to the pipes was already done, and the damaged pipes continued to leach lead into the water, in excess of the EPA’s designated Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for lead in potable water. Flint is currently adding increased levels of orthophosphate to the water in an attempt to reduce the amount of exposed lead in the pipes.
How much lead is allowed to be in potable water?
The EPA has set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead in drinking water (potable water).
What other contaminants are tested for in my drinking water?
The EPA requires that many potential contaminants are tested for, and sets Maximum Contaminant Levels for both Primary and Secondary Drinking Water Standards. Some of the most commonly detected contaminants are Total Coliform Bacteria, Fecal Coliform Bacteria, Fluoride, Arsenic, Nitrate, Sodium, Copper, Barium, Haloacetic Acids, Total Trihalomethanes, Chlorine, and Radon.
Where does lead in drinking water come from?
While there can be areas with sources of water that are naturally higher in lead than others, most lead in drinking water comes from the corrosion of old pipes, piping fixtures, or from the solder connecting pipes.
How can I find out if there’s lead in my drinking water?
If your drinking water comes from a public water supply, contact your local water authority. They are required to test the water for many contaminants, one of which is lead, on a regular basis. Most public water suppliers post an annual Water Quality Report, which is likely available at their website, which will detail whether or not they exceeded any Maximum Contaminant Levels in the past year.
If your drinking water comes from a private well, you’ll have to get it analyzed by a National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP) accredited laboratory.
For more information, check out www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm or www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family or give us a call at 1-800-627-1806. We’ll be happy to answer any questions that you might have concerning safe drinking water.