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Beginning Monday, new lead law requires water systems to alert customers, provide filters

September 30, 2018

Beginning Monday, new lead law requires water systems to alert customers, provide filters

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Broken water main repairs and service line replacement jobs are a daily responsibility for the Cleveland Water Department, which pumps 78 billion gallons of water through 5,300 miles of underground pipes to its 1.5 million customers every year.

But all of that below-ground maintenance activity on old, damaged pipes potentially can shake lead loose into the drinking water, creating an unhealthy situation that the Ohio EPA is taking action to alleviate.

Beginning Monday, all public water systems in the state will be required to update their response plans for customers potentially impacted by service work on water pipes containing lead.

With the new rules, water companies will be required to alert all residents living in the vicinity of pipe line repairs at least 45 days prior to the start of a project, and offer those residents lead water filters for up to three months. The Cleveland Water Department officials said they plan to provide the impacted residents water-filtering pitchers and three months of lead-filtering cartridges free of charge, at the residents’ request.

The warning notices must inform the customers, in part, that “work being performed may cause a temporary increase in lead levels in drinking water,” provide instructions for obtaining and installing lead filters, and offer guidance for reducing lead levels at their taps.

The regulations were revised in response to a lead emergency at the Miami Valley Hospital near Dayton in 2016, EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said. A road construction project near the hospital was suspected of dislodging lead-contaminated sediment in a pipe, sending water into several hospital buildings spiked with a lead content five to 10 times higher than permitted under EPA guidelines.

Cleveland Water spokesman Jason Wood said the department’s officials were active participants in helping the EPA to develop the new regulations.

“The rules add a few new requirements that we are pleased to roll out to our customers,” said Scott Moegling, Cleveland’s water quality manager. “We believe it will give them peace of mind in knowing that the water they drink is as clean and safe as we know it is.”

When water pipe replacement work is scheduled to begin, the Cleveland Water Department will mail letters to all its customers in the impacted areas notifying them of the scope of the work, offering to replace customer-owned water lines containing lead, and providing guidance on additional actions they should take to reduce potential lead levels at their taps.

In the case of rental properties, the Cleveland department is working to coordinate a direct mailing to reach renters and to residential homes whose addresses do not receive a bill, said spokesman John Goersmeyer. They are encouraging landlords to contact the department via the Lead Inquiry Line to request brochures to distribute to their tenants, he said.

As the new regulations take effect, the Cleveland Water Department will begin implementation of a Lead Awareness Campaign featuring a brochure that customers will receive with their monthly billing (below).

The campaign is designed to provide customers with information about how to determine if lead is present in their home’s service line or plumbing system, and to teach them the basic ways to reduce their risk of lead exposure in drinking water, department officials said.

The Cleveland Water Department oversees a $26 million annual capital investment program designed to repair and replace its outdated and damaged water mains, with 17 projects in Cleveland and 18 projects in the suburbs.

The city’s water-treatment includes use of a chemical called orthophosphate, an anti-corrosive that forms a thin barrier on the insides of pipes and plumbing fixtures that prevents lead from leaching into drinking water, and regular testing for lead in thousands of homes.

In the most recent Lead Compliance Monitoring Tests, 90 percent of the results were below 1.8 parts per billion, the equivalent of a few drops in an Olympic-size swimming pool. The highest result was 3.5 ppb, well below the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion.

The Plain Dealer reported that few of the locations sampled by the city-run water utility were in Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods, where city and state data show children are at the highest risk for lead poisoning.

Cleveland Water also relied on samples obtained, in many cases, that city and water department employees had collected from kitchen faucets in their own homes, a practice not prohibited by regulators.

The primary source of lead in drinking water is from service lines connecting buildings to water mains, particularly in older homes built before 1950.

Elevated lead levels may pose serious health risks for children and pregnant women.

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