Tests reveal lead in area water Pipes, solder are source

Westminster residents urged to take precautions

July 01, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Westminster-area residents should run their cold-water faucets for up to 30 seconds before drinking or cooking with water from the tap, as sampling continues to show levels of lead above the acceptable federal standard.

The lead isn't in the water supply, but is leached from pipes and solder along its path to the tap, said Paula K. Martin, superintendent of the city's water plant. Warm weather increases the leaching reaction.

"We don't believe there's an imminent danger, but it's something to be aware of, something to work with," she said. "There's nothing wrong with the water."

Westminster began sampling in 1992, and its water tested below the federal standard from 1992 through 1994, said George Krause, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"Then in 1995, they first registered an action level for lead," he said.

Sampling requirements for a medium-sized system are 30 to 60 sites. When more than 10 percent of these samples exceed the action limit, Martin said, "We undergo this procedure."

Thus, the city must regularly sample and notify residents about flushing their pipes, which costs about 42 cents a month -- far less than trying to replace the pipes, she said.

Corrosion control -- treating the water with lime -- also prevents lead from dissolving into the water.

The city has "very, very few lead service lines," Martin said. A few were eliminated several years ago with the general upgrade and replacement of utilities along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The water plant serves about 27,000 customers in the greater Westminster area, she said.

Krause said water in many of the state's other medium-sized cities -- ranging from populations of 10,000 to 100,000 -- have registered above the EPA standard. These include Salisbury, Ocean City, Elkton, Cumberland, Frostburg, Hampstead, Thurmont, Bel Air, Edgewood and Rockville.

"All of them at one time or another reported one or more [readings] over for lead," he said. "So Westminster's not unique in that."

Residents can contact the city for information about testing for lead and steps to avoid ingestion.

Lead in drinking water rarely causes lead poisoning, but can contribute 20 percent of a person's overall exposure -- especially in infants who drink formula and concentrated juices, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead builds up in the body over years and can damage the brain, red-blood cells and kidneys. It can slow mental and physical development in children, according to the federally required warning issued by the city.

According to the warning notice, water that has been standing in pipes for six hours or more should be flushed before cooking or drinking by running the faucet for 15 to 30 seconds -- until the water becomes noticeably colder, indicating that it was not in contact with the plumbing. Cold water should be used because hot water can dissolve more lead.

Flushing the system is the primary recommendation by officials, but the warning notice also lists other possible steps to reduce the risk, including:

Checking for lead solder, which was banned in 1986. It can be identified because it looks dull gray but turns shiny when scratched with a key. The state should be notified if it was installed illegally.

Eliminating loose debris and solder after new plumbing is installed by removing faucet strainers and running the water for three to five minutes.

Hiring a plumber to find out whether service lines are made of lead or checking the city's plumbing-inspection records at the county Department of Permits and Inspections. The water system also should have records and may be required to replace a city-controlled line where the water contains more than 15 parts per billion if other measures fail to reduce the level. Other sections may be replaced at the owner's expense.

Using home-treatment devices at each faucet.

Pub Date: 7/01/96

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