A state mandate that all public water systems identify and map their lead service lines in a heightened bid to protect drinking water is hardly causing a ripple locally.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency had set a March 9 deadline for 1,878 cities, villages, and businesses to provide the locations of their lead piping. The order was in response to House Bill 512, a new set of restrictions against lead in public water systems that Governor John Kasich signed into law last June.
The color-coded map shows the risk potential of lead piping in any given Ohio public water system. The Fulton County communities required to provide the mapping – Wauseon, Swanton, Archbold, Fayette, and Delta – have water systems that are already lead-free.
Wauseon Public Service Director Dennis Richardson said he believes the percentage of lead service lines in the city’s system is negligible. Because the installation of some dates back to at least the 1930s, and because there are no records of them, they are still occasionally discovered.
“Any time we do come across one, we change it out immediately,” Richardson said.
The city has used only copper or plastic piping for decades, he said. It also daily coats the interiors of the pipes with phosphate so metals can’t leach into the water, and tests for lead in areas of the city where old lead and copper piping is suspected.
“We haven’t had even a detect – parts per billion – per my knowledge, ever,” Richardson said. “The main thing to conclude is that the city doesn’t have a lead problem in its drinking water.”
He said the next step in the OEPA process will probably be to physically inspect the plumbing inside every home and business hooked up to the city’s water system to look for lead piping. And that will take years.
“After that, I don’t know what the EPA will mandate,” he said. “As we go forward I believe we’ll be required to do some educational type things.”
Brian Hildebrand, Swanton’s superintendent of water treatment, said the last of the village’s lead piping predates his 17-year tenure. It was replaced with copper, plastic, PVC, galvanized steel or ductal iron. The village has been changing water meters since 2005.
“We haven’t found any lead in homes. We haven’t had any lead issues at all,” he said. “We haven’t had a lead detect since 1992.”
Every three years, the village samples water from a random selection of 20 houses and businesses built prior to 1998, when tougher regulations were instituted. This is a testing year, and Hildebrand said it will be completed by July, well ahead of a September deadline.
“We will fulfill all our obligation to the OEPA with lead and copper tests,” he said.
The Village of Fayette has no lead issues with village-owned lines, Administrator Genna Biddix said. She said the OEPA’s mapping project is geared more toward service lines and internal plumbing in homes.
“We can’t definitively say there are no lead service lines out there. We’re fairly confident most service lines are copper,” she said.
Like other area communities, Fayette also uses plastic, PVC or galvanized steel pipes, and completes all property testing according to OEPA standards. The village has never detected lead in test results.
Biddix believes the mandated map is misleading.
“A lot of what this could produce is public panic unnecessarily,” she said. “This is more in response to the Flint, Michigan crisis they had, and I think that was a negligence issue on their part. Most public water systems aren’t going to have that problem.”
Archbold has had a policy in place for 33 years to replace any lead service lines that were discovered. Water Superintendent Scott Schultz said that has resulted in zero lead problems in the water.
He said village water meters are inside homes, so when they’re changed the service line entering the residence is inspected.
“Archbold’s been pretty proactive,” Schultz said. “We’ve been pretty aggressive in construction in putting in water mains.”
OEPA spokesperson Heidi Griesmer said the service line maps the agency received run the gamut. “The level of sophistication that we’ve seen in the maps varies greatly. There were many that said, ‘We’re lead free,’” she said.
And though some communities can still identify lead service lines, “that doesn’t mean there’s lead in the water,” she said. “Many of them take precautions so lead doesn’t leach into the lines.”
The communities must update their maps every five years. Griesmer said within that time the OEPA’s guidelines could change to include inspecting piping in residences and businesses.
Andrea Schwiebert, public health nurse for the Fulton County Health Department, said lead piping is among various elements that could contribute to lead poisoning in children. If such a case is suspected it’s investigated by the Ohio Department of Health.
While she can’t absolutely conclude it as a poisoning source, Schwiebert said if water sits overnight in a lead pipe the metal could leach from a soldering point. “It could factor into the poisoning, and we definitely look into that and test further to find out,” she said.
She advises homeowners unsure of what type of piping they have to allow water from the tap to run five to 10 seconds before using it to allow any lead contaminants to be flushed.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.