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Area Officials Assure Remaining Lead Pipes Properly Treated

Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Lebanon — Although many older homes served by water systems in the Upper Valley rely on aging supply lines, proper testing, treatment and balanced water sources help render the drinking water safe, according to municipal officials.

Unlike the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Mich., Upper Valley officials say most water lines here don’t contain lead and that proper corrosion controls prevent heavy metals from leaching into drinking water.

In Lebanon, about 1.5 million gallons of water makes its way from the Greater Mascoma River Watershed through a system of cast-iron water lines and into people’s homes. Those older pipes are being replaced as they are discovered during other work, such as the city’s extensive combined sewer overflow project, said Jim Angers, superintendent of Lebanon’s water treatment plant.

The city tests a pool of 60 homes for lead poisoning every three years and treats the water so it becomes less acidic and won’t corrode heavy metals from pipes.

“We do take our responsibility to protect customers from lead exposure very seriously,” Angers said on Monday.

But in Michigan, doctors have found high blood levels of lead in Flint children after the city began drawing drinking water from the Flint River and failed to treat the corrosive water, according to The Associated Press. State regulators then downplayed or ignored alarming water quality results as concern grew among residents. The Michigan-area regional administrator from the Environmental Protection Agency has resigned in the wake of the scandal.

Regulators in the Twin States said they are on the lookout for any problems.

“It better not happen here,” Sarah Pillsbury, administrator of New Hampshire’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau, said in a phone interview on Monday.

Public water systems in the state all adhere to the federal lead and copper rule, she said, which requires new water systems to pass biannual testing in their first year. If they pass, water systems can then move to annual testing and, later, test every three years.

Although water systems are required to provide the testing, Pillsbury said, state regulators would step in if they suspect something is wrong. Regulators also have the ability to enforce violations and even request charges from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office if violations mount.

“We would go after people if they weren’t doing the sampling that’s required,” or not meeting requirements after test results come back, Pillsbury said.

“There isn’t a system that jumps to mind that we had to go down that path with,” she said.

Lead poisoning is particularly dangerous to children and can lead to lifelong health and behavioral problems. The EPA requires municipalities to take action once lead levels exceed 15 parts per billion, but health experts argue that no amount is safe, The Associated Press reported.

In New Hampshire, 13,701 children were tested for lead poisoning in 2014, according to the EPA. Ninety-two of those were confirmed cases of poisoning and another 737 were found to have lead in their blood.

Vermont tested 2,639 children that year and found 18 confirmed cases of poisoning and another 167 children with lead in their bloodstream.

While lead can come from soil contamination, it can also be found in old water pipes and plumbing fixtures. A survey recently completed by the American Water Works Association found 6.5 million lead lines in use nationwide.

“We don’t have any lead lines that I’m aware of right now,” said Rick Kenney, chief water system operator for Hartford. “There’s probably some out there that I’m not aware of.”

Hartford’s water lines were first constructed in the early 1900s out of cast iron. Lead pipe necks could sometimes be found during maintenance, but whenever a crew finds one, it’s replaced, he said.

Every three years, the town samples 20 homes chosen because of age and the possibility they contain lead solder.

In 2014, one Hartford site recorded lead levels over the federal action level. But, Kenney said, that result might be a “fluke,” as the home where it was recorded has tested under those levels in other samples.

The town also doesn’t treat for corrosion, Kenney said, because water from its two Wilder wells isn’t acidic enough to damage pipes.

Hanover has treated its water with an upgraded filtration system since 2006. Two years earlier, the town recorded action levels of lead in as many as six of the 20 homes it sampled.

The town’s water lines date anywhere from 1893 to 2002, Public Works Director Peter Kulbacki said. Before 1970, many of those were cast iron but some lead was used in the “gooseneck” pipes connecting the system to older homes.

Two chemicals are used to prevent corrosion in the water. One creates a coating on the pipes and provides a physical barrier between heavy metals and water. The other raises the water’s pH level.

The filtration system also provides a physical filter to larger contaminants and adds chlorine to kill viruses.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Kulbacki said.

Since 2006, he said, Hanover’s water results have come back stable, free from E. coli and action levels of lead.

The most recent water quality reports for Hartford, Lebanon, Hanover and Claremont show lead levels ranging from one to 26 parts per billion. The sole site over the federal action level was the one tested in 2014 in Hartford.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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