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Commentary – The Truth About Lead in Your Water

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September 6, 2016

by Dean Gallea
(on behalf of the Tarrytown Environmental Advisory Council)

Lead in waterRecently, Tarrytown was cited by the U.S. EPA for several violations in reporting and following up on certain positive tests for lead in the Village’s drinking water.

Village Administrator Mike Blau has issued an open letter on the Village website, explaining in detail how a single violation in 2013 caused a chain of procedural issues and administrative violations. In the letter, he assures residents that for the most recent testing, from January 1, 2016 to June 30, 2016, only one testing location exceeded the lead threshold. Since 2014, Tarrytown has doubled both the number of sites tested and the frequency of testing. Given the number of samples, seven would have to exceed the threshold to be in violation of the EPA regulations.

Nonetheless, residents may be wondering how lead gets into our water, what the real risk is, and what can be done about it.

Lead gets in homes’ water to varying degrees if the water passes through pipes that are made of lead (old underground service pipes), made of metal containing some lead (older brass pipes or fittings), or has joints soldered with lead (copper pipes installed before 1982 when the use of lead-bearing solder in new construction was banned).

Rather than requiring homeowners to replace all their lead-bearing plumbing, the law requires municipal water suppliers to add a chemical (a phosphate is commonly used) that causes a protective coating to form on exposed lead, reducing the tendency for lead to leach into the water. If tests show that more than 10 percent of homes with lead-bearing plumbing, that are tested pursuant to EPA regulations, have lead in the water above a defined level, the Village is required to take certain actions including increased notification to water customers. If the exceedances in the lead level continue over multiple testing periods, the Village must submit a revised corrosion control program to the County Health Department.

The well-publicized problem of lead content in Flint, Michigan’s water was not caused by lead in the water supply, but by the decision to switch the city’s water supply to a new, more corrosive source without adjusting the phosphate levels added. This caused greater leaching of lead from the existing water service pipes. Tarrytown’s water is much less corrosive than Flint’s.

If you are concerned about lead in your own home’s water, there are several things you can do to gain confidence that you and your family are safe from lead-related health effects:

1) Run it first: Before drinking it, using it for cooking, or rinsing produce, run your cold water as long as it takes to feel its coolest, since that means all the water that was sitting in the piping and potentially exposed to lead has been flushed out.

2) Get your water tested: The Westchester County Environmental Labs in Valhalla is accredited for a number of water tests, including a suite called “Drinking Water Metals I” that includes lead and other toxic metals. Inquire about their fee schedule at Client Services, (914) 231-1771. You’ll want to see lead levels well below the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion.

3) Use a do-it-yourself water filter: There are dozens of water filtering units sold in kitchen-supply stores, department stores and home centers. These range from fill-and-filter pitchers, to faucet-mounted filters, to countertop dispensers that connect to the faucet. Make sure the filter is designed to remove lead.

4) Install an undersink filter: My favorite taps into your cold-water line and gives you a separate, lever-operated faucet that you use for drinking and cooking water. You can even split the filtered-water line to run to your refrigerator ice-maker and water dispenser. You’ll probably need to hire a plumber to install one, though, and you should replace the filter cartridge at least yearly.

Armed with facts and the assurances of our annual water-quality reports, there’s no reason for Tarrytown residents to be afraid of their tap water. Stay healthy and hydrated!

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