NOTICE — High Lead Levels in Some Roxbury Drinking Water


Regarding the Roxbury Water District.

Contact Mike Jonkers at 518-231-2713 or
Philip Nikolaus at 607-326-3141

High Levels of Lead Found in Some Drinking Water

The Results of a new lead-sampling program, performed by the Roxbury Water District, indicate that some homes in this community have high levels of lead.  As lead can pose significant health risks, especially to young children and pregnant women, citizens may need to take action in their own homes.

Although most homes tested had very low levels of lead, more than 10 percent of those sampled exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) recommended level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), or 0.015 milligrams of lead per liter of water (mg/L).  The water provider has begun to implement a program to minimize lead in drinking water.  This program includes corrosion control treatment (treating the water to make it less likely that lead will dissolve into the water), source water treatment if necessary (removing any lead that is in the water at the time it leaves our treatment facility), and public education.

While this program is being implemented, citizens should take simple steps, like flushing their taps, to protect themselves and their families and reduce their exposure to lead in drinking water.  Since lead enters drinking water primarily through household plumbing, homes that contain brass fixtures or lead solder to join copper pipes, or that receive their water from a service line made of lead are at the highest risk.

Lead in drinking water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning can significantly increase a person’s total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water.  The USEPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead.

Lead is a common, natural metal found throughout the environment.  Before experts knew it was dangerous, lead was used in many products, for example, gasoline, paint, plumbing pipes and fixtures, glass, and certain types of pottery, porcelain, and pewter.  Today, lead can be found in air, soil household dust, food and drinking water.

Lead poses a significant risk to health if too much of it enters the body.  Lead builds up in the body over many years and can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells, and kidneys.  Lead is particularly dangerous for children.  Amounts of lead that won’t hurt adults can slow down the normal mental and physical development of growing bodies.  In addition, a child at play often comes into contact with sources of lead contamination-like dirt and dust- that rarely affect an adult.  It is important, therefore, to wash children’s hands and toys often and to try to make sure they only put food in their mouths.

Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants in that it seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes.  Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away, of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household plumbing.  These materials include lead-based solder, brass and chrome plated brass faucets, and lead pipes.  In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing more than 0.2% lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0%.

When water stands in lead pipes or plumbing, systems containing lead for several hours or more, the lead may dissolve into drinking water.  This means the first water drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon after returning from work or school, can contain fairly high levels of lead.

Steps You Can Take in the Home to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water

Despite our best efforts mentioned earlier to control water corrosivity and remove lead from the water supply, lead levels in some homes or buildings can be high.  You should take the following precautions, especially if the water will be consumed by young children or pregnant women.

1.     Flush your system. Let the water run from the tap before using it for drinking or cooking any time the water in a faucet has gone unused for more than six hours.  The longer water resides in a home’s plumbing, the more lead it may contain.  Flushing the tap means running the cold water faucet until the water gets noticeably colder, usually about 15-30 seconds.  If the home has a lead service line to the water main, flush the water for a longer time, perhaps one minute, before drinking.  Although toilet flushing or showering flushes water through a portion of the homes plumbing system, homeowners still need to flush the water in each faucet before using it for drinking or cooking.  Flushing tap water is a simple and inexpensive measure to protect a family’s health.  To conserve water, homeowners can fill a couple of bottles for drinking water after flushing the tap, and whenever possible use the “first flush” water to wash their dishes or water their plants.

Letting the water flow before using it may not lessen the risk from lead if you live in a high-rise building.  This is because high-rise plumbing systems have more and sometimes larger pipes than smaller buildings.  Renters should ask their landlord for help in locating the source of the lead and for advice on reducing the lead level.

2.     Use only cold water for cooking and drinking.  Citizens should not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap.   Hot water can dissolve lead more quickly than cold water.  Always draw water from the cold tap and heat it on the stove or in the microwave oven.

3.     Remove loose lead solder and debris from the plumbing materials installed in newly constructed homes, or homes in which the plumbing has recently been replaced.  To do this, remove the faucet strainers from all taps and run the water for three to five minutes.  Thereafter, periodically remove the strainers and flush out any debris that has accumulated over time.

4.     Have your water tested.  If you are still concerned, you may want to have your water tested.  Several local laboratories can test drinking water including:  Titan Drilling at 845-586-4009; E-Center at 607-746-8626 or Phoenix Environmental Labs at 860-812-0270.  Testing is the only way to determine if you have lead in your water because you cannot see, taste or smell lead in drinking water.

You may wish to have two samples analyzed.  The first should be a first draw tap sample.  Draw one liter of water that has stood motionless in the plumbing system for at least six hours.  The second should be a flush sample.  After the first draw sample has been taken, allow the water to run for 30-60 seconds.  Draw another one liter sample.  If the first draw exceeds the action level of 15 ppb or 0.015 mg/L, but the flush sample meets the action level, then flushing your system as described above will be effective in reducing your lead exposure.  If both samples exceed the action level, then you can take the steps described below.  For more information on having your water tested, please call the contact number at the top of this bulletin, or call the State Health Department (Oneonta) at 607-432-3911.

5.     Identify and replace lead materials with lead-free ones.  If a homeowner has copper pipes jointed with lead solder that has been installed illegally since it was banned in 1986, they should notify the plumber who did the work.  Request that he or she replace the lead solder with lead-free solder.  Lead solder looks dull gray, and when scratched with a key looks shiny.  In addition, notify the local code enforcement office at 607-326-7643 about the violation.

6.     Determine whether or not the service line that connects your home or apartment building to the water main is made out of lead.  To determine this, homeowners can either hire a licensed plumber to inspect the line or contact the plumbing contractor who installed the line.  Identify the plumbing contractor by checking the record of building permits, which should be maintained in the files of the code enforcement office listed above.  A licensed plumber can at the same time check to see if a home’s plumbing contains lead solder, lead pipes, or pipe fittings that contain lead.  The contact number at the top of this bulletin can be called about materials located in the distribution system.

If the service line that connects a dwelling to the water main contributes more than 15 ppb to drinking water, after the required corrosion control treatment program is in place, then the water provider is required to replace the line.  If the line is only partially controlled by the water provider, information will be provided to the homeowner on how to replace their portion of the service line.  The water provider will offer to replace that portion of the line at the homeowner’s expense and take a follow-up tap water sample within 14 days of the replacement.  Acceptable replacement alternatives include copper, steel, iron, and plastic pipes.

7.     Have an electrician check home wiring.  If grounding wires from the electrical system are attached to water pipes, corrosion may be greater.  If citizens find this to be the case, they should ask a licensed electrician or check local electrical codes to determine if their wiring can be grounded elsewhere.  Consumers should NOT attempt to change the wiring themselves because improper grounding can cause electrical shock and fire hazards.

The steps described above will reduce the lead concentrations in most household’s tap water.  If, however, a water test indicates that drinking water still contains lead concentrations in excess of 15 ppb after flushing, or after the water provider has completed its actions to minimize lead levels, citizens may want to purchase or lease a home treatment device or purchase bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Home treatment devices are limited in that each unit treats only the water that flows from the faucet to which it is connected, and all of the devices require periodic maintenance and replacement.  Devices such as reverse osmosis systems or distillers can effectively remove lead from drinking water.  Some activated carbon filers may reduce lead levels at the tap; however, all lead reduction claims should be investigated.  Homeowners planning to purchase a home treatment device must check the actual performance of a specific home treatment device before and after installing the unit.

For More Information

There are a variety of sources who can provide additional information about lead poisoning.  A family doctor, pediatrician, or clinic can perform a blood test for lead and provide more information about the health effects of lead.  State and local government agencies that can be contacted include:

The water system at 607-326-7641 can provide information about the community’s water supply and a list of local laboratories that have been certified by USEPA for testing water quality;

The code enforcement office, at 607-326-7643 can provide information about building permit records that may contain the name of plumbing contractors that plumbed an individual’s home; and

The Delaware County Public Health Nursing Office at 607-746-3166 or the State Health Department (Oneonta) at 607-432-3911 can provide information about the health effects of lead and how to have a child’s blood tested.

The sampling program was conducted to meet the requirements of a new standard for lead in drinking water.  Questions about lead in your drinking water or how Roxbury Water District is carrying out the requirements of the lead regulation can be directed to Mike Jonkers at 518-231-2713 or Philip Nikolaus at 607-326-3141.

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