(Photo: Commercial-News/Robert Tomlinson)
Story Updated at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3
By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — The City of Three Rivers is asking residents to run their water before using it after excessive levels of lead were found in multiple homes in a recent sampling.
According to a release from the city Thursday, recent rounds of sampling from 47 homes in the city found that six homes had results that had over 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead in their tap water.
The result means that Three Rivers officially exceeds the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s “Action Level” for lead, based on having more than 10 percent of homes tested return results over 15 ppb.
“For those homes that have lead in their service lines or a lead line going to their house, they could potentially be at risk of having too much lead in the water,” City Manager Joe Bippus said in an interview Thursday.
City officials stressed that the action level is meant to measure effectiveness of corrosion control, and that it is not a health standard.
“The goal for lead in drinking water is 0 ppb; there is no safe level of lead in the blood,” the city wrote in its release.
While officials from the city did not advise against drinking the water, Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency Health Officer Rebecca Burns cautioned residents against it in an interview Thursday.
“Individuals that have municipal water from the city of Three Rivers should not use the water to brush their teeth, to cook with, to drink, and they should seek an alternative source,” Burns said. “If they have a filtering device that meets the criteria for lead removal, it’s okay to drink the water that passes through that filter.”
Because the city is now considered to be in “Action Level Exceedance” according to EGLE, the city will now be required to provide educational outreach to customers, ongoing sampling every six months, assessing the corrosivity of the water, and service line replacement. According to the release, the city will be collecting at least 40 samples every six months and review results to determine “if corrective actions are necessary to reduce corrosion in household plumbing.”
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will be offering free certified lead-reducing filters and replacement cartridges to eligible city residents beginning Tuesday at the Department of Public Services on 1015 S. Lincoln Ave. in Three Rivers, and at the BHSJ office on 1110 Hill St. in Three Rivers.
Residents are asked to bring a driver’s license or photo ID to confirm that they live in the city, or a copy of your city water bill. There will be one filter distributed per household. Houses that have multiple units will be provided 1 filter per apartment unit.
To be eligible for filters, the health department said, you need to either have a child under the age of 18 who is “living in or frequently visiting the home,” have a pregnant person living in the home, and or be a resident of the city. In addition to one of those three requirements, you need to be a recipient of Medicaid or WIC services or attest that you cannot afford to purchase a filter at a store.
BHSJ Health Officer Rebecca Burns said in a release from the health department that they are “prepared” to assist the city and residents following today’s report.
“In collaboration with the Department of Public Services, our agency will be a distribution point for residents who are on the city’s water system,” Burns said. “We commend the city for their collaboration and partnership in this process. We understand that residents will have concerns, our agency stands together with our partners to support you.”
Burns added in an interview that Thursday’s developments were surprising, given that the city has been in compliance with the state in the past.
“Certainly, we weren’t expecting it,” Burns said. “The lead and copper rules have changed, so I think it’s possible we’ll see more and more of this in municipal supplies. The city has a longstanding compliance with EGLE with their water, so it certainly wasn’t something we expected to see.”
According to the state, there are a number of health effects of lead in the drinking water, especially for pregnant women and young children. Lead can enter drinking water when in contact with pipes, solder, home/building interior plumbing, fittings and fixtures that contain lead. Homes with lead service lines have an increased risk of having high lead levels in drinking water. The more time water has been sitting in a home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. Therefore, if water has not been used for several hours, officials advise residents to run the water before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes lead-containing water from the pipes. Additional flushing may be required for homes that have been vacant or have a longer service line.
According to the city’s release, the lead issues were found while conducting testing of tap water in homes for lead and copper in accordance with the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act. The city, according to the release, recently found more lead service lines while conducting testing, and the recent sampling was the first round of collecting samples from home plumbing and service lines. The sample sites for the test and the methodology were determined based on new rules in the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule circa 2018.
When asked whether or not the city’s situation compares to other notable cities that have experienced major lead problems in the state, such as Benton Harbor or Flint, Bippus disagreed, saying that even though there are now major worries about lead in the water, he does not feel the city is currently facing a Flint-like or Benton Harbor-like water crisis.
“I don’t think we have a crisis, I think we’re just identifying what’s been there for a long time, and taking steps now, if we have an issue, to make sure people aren’t being negatively affected,” Bippus said. “It’s a natural reaction [to think of Flint and Benton Harbor], and we knew that’s how it’s going to come across. We will be working with the state.”
The city has been attempting to deal with lead service lines following a statewide mandate to have them replaced by 2041. In January, Department of Public Services Director Amy Roth estimated that “40 percent” of homes in Three Rivers, approximately 1,100, may have lead service lines, based on an extrapolation from an ongoing project to randomly sample service lines throughout the city.
The city has also, in the past couple of years, tried to get funding to complete lead service line replacement. This has included raising bi-monthly fees on water prices, and more recently applying for a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund grant to fund at least part of the replacement, which could end up costing the city $14.5 million to replace the approximately 19,430 feet of water lines.
Other steps the city and health department recommended in their releases include to run water to flush out possible lead-containing water, not boiling water as boiling will not reduce the amount of lead, cleaning faucet aerators, and check whether your home has a lead service line.
Those in the city who want their service line inspected or want to learn more about lead testing are asked to contact the Three Rivers Department of Public Services at (269) 273-1845 or visit Michigan.gov/EGLElab for a list of certified labs.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.