EPA advises users of private wells to test water for lead from new pumps

April 19, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday advised hundreds of thousands of people who drink from private wells to switch temporarily to bottled water and to test for possible lead contamination from pumps installed in the past year.

Citing new experimental data, the agency recommended that millions of other households with older pumps should also have the tests done while continuing to use well water. The agency said the pumps in question, which are submerged in the wells and contain components made of lead alloys, were more likely to cause pollution when new.

Scientists and lawyers working for the environmental groups whose research prompted the government's action said that most of the 450,000 submersible pumps sold last year contained lead. They said that 30 million people might drink water from wells equipped with submersible pumps made of lead alloys.

Consuming even very small amounts of lead can cause irreversible brain damage, intellectual and developmental problems, and other ailments, especially in fetuses or young children. Lead poisoning is widely regarded as the most serious environmental problem facing children in this country.

Two environmental groups and the California attorney general filed lawsuits yesterday in a state court against four major manufacturers of submersible pumps with parts cast from lead-based brass and bronze, after detailed laboratory tests found that very high levels of lead can leach from the pumps into water, especially in the first month or so of use. The federal agency's warning was based on these tests.

The laboratory found lead contamination coming from these four pump models: the F. E. Myers Co.'s Predator II; Aermotor Pumps Inc.'s model LR5857; Goulds Pumps Inc.'s model 10EJ054; and Sta-Rite Industries' Signature 2000.

Other companies also make pumps containing lead; most suppliers make some lead-free models. Two companies that were sued yesterday, Goulds Pump and Sta-Rite, announced that they would stop selling lead-based pumps in California and would provide alternative products in the state soon.

The environmental groups urged all pump manufacturers to recall all their lead-based products nationwide and urged Congress to address the problem in the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is scheduled to be debated this week in the Senate.

People who do not know if their water supplies are affected should probably have their water tested if they do not pay water bills to a public water system, the groups advised. Public water systems are already tested by law. The EPA said its advice did not apply to pumps that were known to be lead-free.

Medical research has found no known safe level for lead exposure.

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