Article courtesy of Lucas Rodgers | April 02, 2016 | The Times Herald | Shared as educational material
The water crisis in Flint, Mich., made national and international headlines when high concentrations of lead were found in the city’s water system, but additional reporting has revealed that every state in America has a problem with lead exposure in public tap water to some degree.
Pennsylvania is around the top of the list of states found to have a high number of public water systems with excessive levels of lead, according to a recent report by USA Today.
The report found that in the past few years, Pennsylvania had more instances of high lead content in the water systems of schools and day cares than any other state.
USA Today analyzed data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Information System of water tests conducted from 2012 through 2015, and found 37 instances in this time period of water supplied to schools and day cares in Pennsylvania containing high levels of lead.
According to the EPA’s drinking water requirements for states and public water systems, lead exposure in water is considered to be at an “action level” if the lead content exceeds 15 parts per billion (ppb).
USA Today found that Pennsylvania was second only to Texas in terms of the overall number of exceedances for public water systems in the state. Texas was found to have 183 exceedances, and Pennsylvania was found to have 157 exceedances.
Other states near the top of the list are New York, California and New Jersey. By comparison, Michigan is right around the middle of the list, with 42 exceedances, even though Flint has become infamous for having lead in its public water system. Hawaii, Kentucky and South Dakota are at the bottom of the list, with only one instance of a lead exceedance in each of those states.
A high concentration of lead in a water system does not necessarily mean that the initial water source is contaminated, but the water can leach lead from a building’s pipes.
Parents can’t always be assured that lead isn’t seeping into a school’s water system from the building’s solder or fixtures either, since the EPA estimates that around 90,000 schools and half a million day cares aren’t regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act because they depend on other water sources, such as municipal utilities, that are expected to test their own water, according to USA Today.
In Pennsylvania, Lancaster County was found to have the highest number of lead exceedances in the state, with 17 water systems containing a concentration of lead higher than 15 ppb; some of these systems exceeded that limit in multiple tests, according to USA Today.
Chester County had the second highest number of lead exceedances, with 13 water systems found to have a concentration of lead higher than 15 ppb, according to the report.
Other counties in the greater Philadelphia area were reported to have much lower numbers of lead exceedances: Berks County had five; Bucks County had seven; Delaware County had one; Montgomery County had two; and Philadelphia County had none, according to USA Today.
Water systems in Chester County that were reported to have lead exceedances include Pikeland Village Square shopping center; Maplewood mobile home park; Taylors mobile home park; Lazy Acres mobile home park; Echo Valley mobile home park; Cochranville mobile home park; Spring Run Estates water treatment plant; Montessori school; Curiosity Corner Children’s Academy; Wagontown Country Day Care; Creative Kids of Downingtown; Sandy Hill Preschool; and East Fallowfield Elementary School, according to USA Today.
Water tests reportedly indicated that lead exposure in water samples from all of these sites exceeded 15 ppb, but the lead content in some sites was higher than in others.
East Fallowfield Elementary, which is part of the Coatesville Area School District, was found to have a lead concentration of 18.5 ppb in its water system, according to USA Today. The school’s water system serves about 380 people, according to the EPA.
According to a spokesperson from the school district, the district has a two tier testing regimen that tests for lead and copper.
The first tier consists of an annual test conducted at the well head. The second tier of the testing regimen includes testing three times per week on any facility that has an on-site well to ensure that chlorination and pH are proper.
The testing includes samples from different locations on each site, one of which usually includes a drinking fountain. Testing is completed by an independent company, Cawley Environmental Systems.
The district added that Cawley Environmental indicated that in 2012 the district had been attempting to collect their own water samples, but that the sample collection was not documented properly and it was not possible to verify the accuracy of the samples. As a result Cawley Environmental Systems was brought in to ensure that testing would be handled appropriately. They have been handling tests ever since.
“The district takes the utmost precautions to ensure that our water is safe for students. We have a thorough testing regimen that samples water weekly at various fountains and sinks within the schools,” said Superintendent Cathy Taschner.
“We have the utmost confidence in our independent water testing company and Aramark facilities management who work together to closely monitor our water. We are confident that our water is safe for children and staff.”
Pikeland Village Square, located in East Pikeland, had the highest number of lead exceedances in Chester County over the four-year testing period, according to USA Today.
A total of three tests of water samples from Pikeland Village Square were found to have lead concentrations between 20 ppb to 39 ppb, according to the report.
Digital First Media also reported last month that business owners at the shopping center were notified by the Pennsylvania DEP that a “boil-water advisory” had been issued after water samples tested positive for E. coli. All commercial businesses are required to provide alternate water to their customers, such as bottled water, until the advisory is lifted.
A follow-up report by Digital First Media about Pikeland Village Square’s water system included a statement by Christopher L. Meszaros, the property manager of the shopping center.
“The DEP notice concerns a positive test result for the presence of E. coli in the source- raw water coming from Pikeland Village’s lower well before treatment,” Meszaros said. “The raw water source of the lower well goes through a treatment process which includes ultra violet light treatment. After treatment, the water enters and is used by each business. The test results reported by an independent lab indicated no E. coli presence.”
He said the DEP notice is a precautionary measure, and the DEP has a protocol to notify the public and tenants through the boiling notice.
“Pikeland Village well equipment and water systems are regularly checked, tested and maintained by our well operator, Clean Stream,” Meszaros said. “Water testing is done by an independent lab. Water testing results are sent directly to DEP.”
Common-sense opinions tend to center on heavy snowfall and heavy rain leaching into the well, but not a lack of well maintenance, he said.
“Pikeland Village is working with Clean Stream and DEP to resolve this matter quickly,” Meszaros said. “We have been in constant communication with DEP about this unfortunate situation and quick resolution to this matter.
“There is no water contamination in our businesses water. Raw-source water is treated.”
Businesses located in Pikeland Village Square, at 513 Kimberton Road, include Rocco’s Pizza Shoppes, Re/Max Main Line, and Tips and Toes Nail Spa. The shopping center’s water system serves about 150 people, according to the EPA.
Each of the other sites listed in Chester County only had one incident of a lead exceedance in their water systems, except for the Maplewood mobile home park, which had two lead exceedances between 20 ppb to 45 ppb, according to the USA Today.
The two sites listed in Montgomery County with lead exceedances were St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and the Limerick Generating Station, the nuclear power plant owned by Exelon Corp.
Limerick Generating Station’s was found to have one lead exceedance, with a water sample testing at 21 ppb, according to USA Today. The power plant’s water system serves about 1,650 people, according to the EPA.
The only water system in Delaware County that was reportedly found to have a lead exceedance was that of Brinton Manor, which is an assisted living facility in Glen Mills that is owned and operated by Genesis Healthcare.
According to USA Today, Brinton Manor had one lead exceedance when a water sample was tested and indicated that the facility’s water system had a lead concentration of 271 ppb.
However, a representative of Genesis Healthcare said the test that found the lead exceedance was inaccurate due to a sampling error by the water testing company, and Brinton Manor never actually had any lead exceedances.
Brinton Manor’s water is supplied by a well, and the water supply is tested by an independent water testing company and carefully monitored by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pa. DEP and the EPA, said Jeanne Moore, vice president of public relations and communications at Genesis Healthcare.
“In 2010, lead levels tested at zero (ppb),” Moore said. “In 2013, there was a sample that tested with high levels of lead, due to improper sampling. As a result, our water was tested on several consecutive days every six months for a time period recommended by the Pennsylvania DEP. Lead levels were zero (ppb) in the subsequent water samples. In 2016, lead levels were zero (ppb).”
She said lead levels at Brinton Manor are tested at least every three years, as is required by the DEP, and all the subsequent water tests after the sampling error have yielded results of zero ppb. The next water test is scheduled for this June, she added.
Brinton Manor’s water system serves about 196 people, according to the EPA.
USA Today reports that lead can be difficult to test for, which causes complications in addressing the health risks that are posed by exposure to water with high levels of lead.
In addition to being used for drinking and washing, lead-tainted water is often used for cooking school lunches or making baby formula, so these factors can cause a high risk for children and infants, according to USA Today.
Lead concentrations can increase as water goes unused but stays in contact with plumbing because schools and daycares are frequently left vacant for long periods of time, USA Today reports.
Furthermore, lead particles may be released intermittently, so a student could go for days drinking from a contaminated water fountain before ingesting lead toxins from the water, according to USA Today.
Testing for lead poisoning in kids can also be tricky, and blood testing for lead is usually done on babies but not school-aged children, USA Today reports.
Symptoms of lead poisoning often don’t appear until dangerous levels of toxins have accumulated, and even then the symptoms can be vague, so they might not be detected until after the damage has already been done, according to USA Today.
Lead poisoning can cause lowered IQ, behavioral problems and developmental delays for children, according to the report.
There is no simple and easy solution for fixing water systems contaminated with lead. Permanent solutions can be quite expensive, according to USA Today.
However, permanent solutions are indeed available.
NPR recently did a report on how Wisconsin’s capital, Madison’s decision to replace all of its lead pipes in 2001 was ultimately successful in enabling the city to avoid excessive levels of lead exposure in its water.
The project was so successful that another city, Lansing, Michigan, is now following the example set by Madison, and is working on replacing its own lead pipes, according to the report.
Follow Digital First Media staff writer Lucas M. Rodgers on Twitter @LucasMRodgers and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lucasmrodgers.