By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – State specialists joined city officials Oct. 30 for a town hall meeting at the Community Event Center to answer questions and relieve fears about lead found in city drinking water.
Brandon Onan, corrosion control engineer, and lead and copper unit supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (formerly known as the Department of Environmental Quality), said state officials are looking at the potentially more high-risk locations in its water-sampling.
“Our assumption was that we could find it, and that is coming out to be true,” he said. “We are starting to find it in more locations because we are testing more, and in better spots.”
Onan said Michigan is the only state in the nation doing this type of sampling.
“We are on the leading edge for lead and copper sampling right now,” he said. “Because of that, we now know that what we thought previously was a good corrosion control technique, because that first draw sample was good, now we are looking at the fifth (sample), and seeing that there might be additional issues here, and that is why we are entering into a corrosion control study, to see if we can further the corrosion control to reduce those numbers through the whole network.”
By running tap water longer, then taking sequential samples of water that has been sitting in the service line, which carries water from the water main into a house, samplers are able to find if the service line is made of lead, and is allowing lead to enter into tap water.
The first sequential sample of water can show lead that enters tap water from a faucet, while the second or third sample taken, as the water continues to run, can reveal lead that enters tap water from the pipes within a house, whether from lead pipes or lead solder on copper pipes. The sixth or seventh sequential sample can then measure lead which entered tap water from the service line that carries water from the main into a house.
Apartment buildings and schools, which have larger diameter pipes carrying water into a building, are typically not made of lead.
City Councilman Carl Louvet said residents don’t understand why, after years of testing, lead is now being found in their tap water.
“They changed their standards,” Louvet said to the residents in attendance. “We have some lead, and Michigan is being pro-active. We don’t want lead in our system, but it is putting our citizens in a panic. I don’t think it has been explained as good as it should be.”
Onan said health officials have continually worked to find and eliminate sources of lead.
“Before the ’70s, there was lead fuel, lead paint, all these things that had high lead exposure to all the people out there,” he said. “Since then, we have been banning them, removing them and remediating them. We have been managing it. Blood lead levels have been coming down drastically over the years. This is one more step in that progression.”
Onan said installing a whole house water filter does not completely mitigate lead water exposure risk, because faucets installed before 2014 can contain lead.
“You can still have a fixture that is more likely to have lead in it, at a higher concentration, and that whole house filter is not going to take care of that,” Onan said.
Steve Crider, drinking water unit manager for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Environmental Health, said system-wide, regardless of the type of service line, especially with children and pregnant women in a house, it is recommended that there be five minutes of flushing the water lines, as well as filter use.
Crider said five minutes of flushing doesn’t mean water needs to be wasted: One can take a shower, or run a washing machine or dishwasher to flush the water lines when water hasn’t been run for four hours or more.
“When you get up in the morning and take a shower, that is actually getting the water moving,” Crider said. “That’s what the key goal is – to get the water moving. If you work, and your house is stagnant for six hours, when you get home, starting a load of laundry before cooking will get that water moving, through your washing machine. So, we are not talking about wasting. I am talking about changing habits.”
In addition to flushing pipes and installing water filters, residents were advised to replace older plumbing, pipes and faucets which may contain lead, to not use hot water from the faucet for drinking or cooking (because the water sits in a hot water heater), and to be aware that boiling does not remove lead from water.
Resident Gwendoline Bentz lightened the tense mood in the room.
“If I am driving down the highway, speeding, and a cop says to me, ‘What’s your hurry, why are you speeding,’ I will say, ‘I live in Melvindale, I have a lead foot,’” Bentz said, amid groans and laughter.
To learn more about lead, go to Michigan.gov/MiLeadSafe.
To reach the drinking water investigation unit of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, call 800-648-6942, and call 800-662-9275 to reach the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.