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Lead Found in Drinking Water Can Leave Property Owners & Tenants at Risk

A manmade disaster! What is happening in Flint, MI?

The dangerously high levels of lead found in drinking water has brought the city of Flint, MI international attention in recent weeks. The number of children discovered to have lead poisoning is steadily increasing as more tests are conducted. The poisoning which has been connected to claims of hair loss, eye irritation, and severe rashes is believed to be irreversible and a State of Emergency has been called.

The problem began in April 2014, when Flint, MI switched from Detroit’s water source, Lake Huron, to the nearby Flint River in order to save money. With eight times the amount of chloride than Detroit’s water source, the effort to prevent water borne disease and protect public health against human pathogens backfired as iron corrosion consumed the chlorine rapidly causing it to disappear. When Flint switched water systems, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) misinterpreted federal law and instructed Flint not to add a corrosion inhibitor (orthophosphate) to the water source. The city of Flint’s aging pipes combined with the mass amounts of uninhibited chlorine in the water ultimately resulted in lead infused toxic water that was consumed by thousands of Flint residents for over 18 months. The Flint River was not carefully maintained and without a corrosion inhibitor present to offset the effects of the chlorine, the water was more corrosive to lead plumbing and iron pipes.

The source of the problem came to light in February 2015 when, after a series of complaints about the cloudiness of the water, rashes, and hair loss, a test of the water in one resident’s home found lead at 104 parts per billion. A few weeks later the same water tested at 397 parts per billion, twenty-six times the US Environmental Protection Agency’s advised limit of 15 ppb and thirty times the World Health Organization (WHO) maximum of 10 ppb. With a lead level this high, it is possible that even without drinking the water, lead can be indirectly internally introduced to the body through the washing of hands or showering. Researchers believe that the water running though faucets across the city of Flint has been contaminated with lead for over 18 months.

What is the risk?

Lead in drinking water presents a severe public health risk and affects everyone, especially fetuses, infants, and young children. Lead pipes, brass plumbing equipment, and copper pipes welded with lead can release lead particles into water. Lead is a potent neurotoxin with multi-generational impacts and has been known to lower IQ, cause learning disabilities, affect behavior, and increase risks of criminality. Infants and children under the age of six are at a much higher risk of lead exposure as they can absorb lead more easily than adults and older children do. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible. Lead poisoning is subtle and the impacts of lead in your bloodstream might not develop for years. There are lifelong detrimental health effects from ingesting lead including: anemia, hypertension, renal impact, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs.

In addition to long term health effects, contaminated water also poses risks for property owners such as getting sued, losing all your tenants, and property devaluation.

What are the regulations?

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), originally passed by Congress in 1974, is the highest federal law that guarantees the quality of America’s drinking water. The SDWA protects public health by standardizing America’s public drinking water supply. With SDWA authorization, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets national standards for drinking water to protect against contaminants either naturally-occurring or man-made that may be found in drinking water. The EPA works with the states, cities, and water suppliers to ensure the standards are being met.

The action level of lead in water is 15 parts per billion. According to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) if the level of lead in drinking water exceeds the action level certain measures such as source water monitoring, corrosion control treatment, public education, and lead service line replacement must be taken to minimize exposure.

How can I avoid liability issues and make sure my tenants are safe?

Many public water systems deliver high quality drinking water to millions of Americans every day, but the safety of drinking water should not be taken for granted. The source of lead in drinking water comes from the home whether through lead pipes or lead soldered fixtures. Although the city is primarily responsible for controlling water quality at the source as well as the upkeep and maintenance of the pipes, there is still a lot that property owners can do to stay proactive and on top of the issue. So what can you do? Be proactive! More rigorous sampling of drinking water can catch the problem early on and should be followed up with extensive and frequent water monitoring. An environmental professional can test your water and identify the source of the contaminant. With the information gathered from the assessment, an environmental professional/solutions team can then find the fixture or pipe in question and replace it as well as offering support and oversight. If you are worried that there is lead in your water don’t hesitate to call a professional.

Don’t wait until it is too late to do something about your water supply. Lead in your drinking water can cause irreparable damage and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Being an informed property owner will put your mind at ease and will prevent you from being surprised in the future if the water on your property is discovered to have lead in it. A lead in water sampling assessment is an easy way to find out if the water running through your taps is clean. Investing in a lead in water sampling assessment is a small price to pay to get a clear picture of the risks your drinking water might pose.

About the Author:

Mr. Brian Nemetz has over 18 years of experience as an Industrial Hygienist. As a Technical Director at Partner, he is responsible for managing as well as conducting industrial hygiene, asbestos, indoor air quality, sound level, Legionella, and mold investigations, as well as overseeing multi-phase remediation projects for commercial, industrial, governmental, and construction companies and organizations.