Friday, February 12, 2016

Lead Pipe Cinch

Everyone assumes that the water flowing from their taps is scrupulously examined by several layers of state and federal agencies, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency. We all know about the outrageous levels of lead content in the Flint, Michigan water supply, but most of us strongly believe, “it can’t happen here.” Right.
Ok, most drinking water supplies – and remember we have about over 53,000 water districts here in the U.S. – are safe, but… “The Environmental Protection Agency says streams tapped by water utilities serving a third of the population are not yet covered by clean-water laws that limit levels of toxic pollutants. Even purified water often travels to homes through pipes that are in stunning disrepair, potentially open to disease and pollutants.
“Although Congress banned lead water pipes 30 years ago, between 3.3 million and 10 million older ones remain, primed to leach lead into tap water by forces as simple as jostling during repairs or a change in water chemistry.
‘We have a lot of threats to the water supply,’ said Dr. Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a professor of public health at Tufts University and a former chairman of the E.P.A.’s Drinking Water Committee. ‘And we have lots of really good professionals in the water industry who see themselves as protecting the public good. But it doesn’t take much for our aging infrastructure or an unprofessional actor to allow that protection to fall apart.’” New York Times, February 8th.
And it’s not as if we haven’t seen Flint-like conditions before: “In Sebring, Ohio, routine laboratory tests last August found unsafe levels of lead in the town’s drinking water after workers stopped adding a chemical to keep lead water pipes from corroding. Five months passed before the city told pregnant women and children not to drink the water, and shut down taps and fountains in schools.
“In 2001, after Washington, D.C., changed how it disinfected drinking water, lead in tap water at thousands of homes spiked as much as 20 times the federally approved level. Residents did not find out for three years. When they did, officials ripped out lead water pipes feeding 17,600 homes — and discovered three years later that many of the repairs had only prolonged the contamination.” NY Times. Fixing pipe can shake out lead during the process, and as lead pipes get older, those which passed muster a few years ago can suddenly loose lead into the taps of local residents.
“In 2011, the water authority in Brick Township, N.J., an oceanside settlement of 75,000 people, tested tap water in a small sample of homes for lead, as the E.P.A. requires be done periodically. It discovered two homes in which the level exceeded the agency’s limit of 15 parts per billion, well short of the number that required remedial steps.
“But in the next mandated test, three years later, it found that 16 of 34 homes exceeded the limit — one of them by a dozen times. The growing use of road salt in recent winters, it turned out, had raised chloride levels in the river from which Brick drew its water. Undetected, the chloride corroded aged lead pipes running to older homes, leaching lead into tap water…
“Unsafe levels of lead have turned up in tap water in city after city  in Durham and Greenville, N.C., in 2006; in Columbia, S.C., in 2005; and last July in Jackson, Miss., where officials waited six months to disclose the contamination — as well as in scores of other places in recent years.” NY Times. How about your community? Feel good that Congress wants to pull back on EPA authority, cut funding to what conservatives see as an EPA “job killer” posture to waste money to insure pure drinking water? Really? Drinking “life killing” toxins is okay as long as the big local industries can grow their profits without paying for the damage. Trust your elected officials to do the right thing when it will cost their biggest contributors a pretty penny?
I’m Peter Dekom, and the popularity of bottled water has occurred simply because we no longer trust our most basic governmental infrastructure to do what our political leaders promised it would do!

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