The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

Bill Johnson for Alaska House

By STEVEN WEBER
Valdez Star 

Report raises eyebrows as small amounts of lead show up on water tests from city supply

Consistent increases over last decade point to growing problem for homeowners with old plumbing

 

August 8, 2018



Lead levels in the water have been slowly increasing over the last decade in Valdez – but do not panic and buy bottled water. Bottled water is allowed to contain up to 5 parts of lead per billion particles. The most recent test of the town’s water which was conducted in 2017, had 3.95 parts per billion. In 2014, that number was 2.54, in 2011 it was 2.43 and in 2008 it was 2.1.

The suspected cause according to the City is due to the corrosion of household plumbing systems.

Lead levels are tested every three years and samples come from the same households each cycle. Samples are not taken from the reservoirs themselves.

According to both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control, there is no known safe level of lead in water although the action level is fifteen parts per billion. When lead levels exceed the action level, treatment is triggered and water systems must follow specific requirements.

Lead intake can be dangerous due to its role as a neurotoxin which affects both central nervous and reproductive systems. It can also decrease IQ scores, causes behavioral issues and slow growth in children. Those that are most vulnerable are young children, pregnant women and individuals that are immunocompromised.

Lead in drinking water became a major news headline nationwide after the crisis in Flint, Michigan. In 2011, Flint, in order to save money, made plans to switch the city’s water source from treated water from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The problem with the Flint River is that the river has naturally high concentrations of chloride salt, which makes the water 19 times more corrosive than Lake Huron’s treated water.

The water from the Flint River was never treated as mandated by federal law and when the switch was made in 2014, pipes corroded quickly, leaving behind permanent damage. Flint’s lead levels jumped to 27 parts per billion as an aggregate with one household having 13,200 parts per billion or 2.5 times what would be classified as hazardous waste.

The water in Valdez, which does have some corrosive elements (but not remotely as corrosive as Flint’s) may be the reason the lead levels are slowly increasing in town according to the City of Valdez.

When the water leaves the City’s cast iron pipes and enters households with lead in the pipes, corrosion slowly takes over at different rates, depending on the specific household water system. Homes built prior to 1986 being the most vulnerable.

Homes built between 1986-2010 would have been required to utilize “lead free” pipes which still have as much as 8 percent lead. Homes constructed after 2010 would be built with lead free pipes where lead levels cannot exceed 0.25 percent.

It is difficult to say for certain that lead levels in town will be higher in 2020 than 2017 but given the trend over the last decade, homeowners should be aware.

Anyone with concerns about their city-supplied water should have it tested according to the city.

Residents are charged $15 for this service; however, some residential buildings will be tested free of charge. The city is looking to add homes built between 1982-1986 that have not upgraded their water systems to the list of homes that are tested for free.

 

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