As fallout continues over the exorbitant levels of lead in the Flint, Mich., water supply, Fulton County officials are reassuring residents that local supplies have levels well below Environmental Protection Agency limitations.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint after the city’s drinking water was discovered to contain dangerous levels of lead. Attention has been placed on the decision in 2014 to use the Flint River as a water source. The polluted river’s corrosive qualities are being blamed for leaching lead from pipes into the water, which has sickened children.
Ziad Musallam, Fulton County’s director of public utilities, said water conditions have remained so consistently good in the county’s Northeast Water System that the EPA requires testing only once every three years.
The water is purchased from the City of Toledo, which treats it with lime softening and corrosion inhibitors before sending it our way, Musallam said. It’s treated again once received by the county.
He said the corrosive quality of Flint’s water isn’t likely locally “because of the nature of the water treatment being practiced in our area.”
The county monitors for lead and copper at the customers’ taps. The last test, conducted in August of 2014, showed no detection of lead and eight micrograms per liter of copper – well below the EPA’s copper action level of 1,300 micrograms per liter.
Initially, the EPA requires a municipality to test its water twice a year. If results prove acceptable over two consecutive testing periods the tests are reduced to one annually. If results continue to be good over three annual testings the EPA allows a reduction to every three years.
Northeast Water System customers receive a report each time the water is tested, Musallam said.
Wauseon uses water drawn from the Maumee River, which is placed in the city reservoir before being sent to the water plant, according to Lou Thourot, the city’s water plant superintendent. The water is put through a stability test run weekly before it’s released from the plant.
The city also follows an EPA-sanctioned three-year testing schedule. The last test, in the summer of 2014, recorded no detection of lead and 58 micrograms per liter of copper, less than five percent of the action level.
“We have not been in violation of this regulation,” Thourot said. Lead and copper testing involves water samples from 20 city households. Compliance for residential tap monitoring is calculated by comparing the 90th percentile sampling of all the samples collected during each monitoring round with the EPA’s action levels.
Thourot said every test run since at least 2005 has resulted in non-detect status. The water is treated with tripolyphosphate, a sequestering agent used to keep calcium in the solution. Calcium lines the water pipes and prevents their metal from leaching into the water.
Thourot said what’s happening in Flint could happen anywhere. He said prevention “is a matter of people doing their job and following what they’re supposed to do.”
The Village of Swanton’s water doesn’t have an issue with lead or copper, and hasn’t at least since the village’s present water plant was built in 1992, said Brian Hildebrand, a plant operator.
The last water test, conducted in July of 2014 with 20 samples from around the village, showed less than four micrograms per liter of lead, which registers as a non-detect. Copper readings had a 90th percentile of about 30, as compared to the the EPA action level of 1,300.
The water, pulled from Swan Creek, is treated with orthophosphate, which coats the pipes to prevent corrosion and lead and copper leaching. The village also uses lime to increase the water’s Ph factor, and adds to the calcium deposits in the lime.
Village pipes are made of galvanized steel, iron, and plastic.
“We haven’t had an issue with lead or copper,” Hildebrand said. “We’re not changing our water source, and we test the chemistry of the water every day.”
The Village of Delta opened a new water treatment plant in 2006. Water Superintendent Don Johnson said its microfiltration and reverse osmosis process removes all harmful substances.
On a three-year schedule with the EPA, the village’s last water test was in 2014, sampling 20 locations representative of the village. The 90th percentile level for lead registered non-detected – .008, as compared to an action level of .0155. The level for copper was .068, well below the action level of 1.3.
“We’ve had no problems, being that our water plant is relatively new. We’re in good standing with the EPA,” Johnson said.
The village pumps water from Bad Creek to its reservoir, then sends it to the water plant. Due to the efficiency of the membranes in reverse osmosis, little else is done to treat the water. Chemicals added are caustic soda to adjust Ph levels, fluoride for dental care, and chlorine to disinfect.
The Village of Archbold uses water from the Tiffin River. Administrator Dennis Howell said the village’s last water testing, in June 2015 showed a 90th percentile for lead of less than four parts per billion, a low limit for detection.
When Flint switched its water source two years ago, somebody was criminally negligent for not doing extensive pilot testing, Howell said. Called metal coupon testing, it reveals how scale forming or corrosive the water is.
“Had they done that testing, it would have shown that what they were proposing should not have been done without treatment to stablilize the water,” Howell said. “Somebody who was a water professional was either asleep at the switch or afraid to speak up.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.