Lead levels in Racine residents’ municipal water were nearly double the allowable levels in 2014 and customers weren’t notified until earlier this week, but progress has been made this year.
A letter from the utility, sent on October 5, 2015, notified residents that 5,025 of the 33,500 property owners in 2014 were at risk of high lead levels just over the U.S. EPA standard of 15 parts per billion, with some lead levels as high as 25 ppb. This letter was supposed to be sent to all property owners at the beginning of 2015, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources mandate.
Drinking water with high levels of lead can cause delays in physical and mental development in babies and children, according to the EPA.
“In 2014, the Racine Water Utility failed to conduct lead and copper public education for the time period of October 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014. Public education was required under statute due to the Racine Water Utility exceeding the lead action level of 15 parts per billion in over 10 percent of the samples taken in 2014 as part of the Lead and Copper Rule monitoring requirements,” the letter stated.
Lead Information Never Went Out
Keith Haas, general manager of the Racine Water Utility, said that they had forgotten to send it out and they do not know for sure what caused the high levels in 2014.
“In 2015, we have tested 900 homes, and we are seeing the best results we have had in 20 years,” Haas said.
The 2015 tests show lead levels are all at or below the 15 ppb required by the EPA. Due to the high numbers shown in 2014, Racine utility increased the frequency and number of water tests in homes. In both the first and second half of 2015, the utility tests showed one out of 102 homes have lead levels below the 15 ppb.
Weather Likely Factor In Lead Levels
The Racine Water Utility added polyether phosphate to the water for the past 20 years. This serves as a chemical bonding agent in lead pipes to create a chemical seal to keep the lead from leaching into standing water in pipes. The tests are conducted in homes every year are to ensure that the additive is still doing its job once it comes out of your faucet.
Water flows from the treatment facility to faucets first through the water mains, all of which are lead-free. The lead pipes show up in two spots – the service pipe from the water mane to the sidewalk, which is owned by the city, and the service pipe from the sidewalk to the property, which is the responsibility of the property owner.
The deep frost caused by extreme cold in the winter of 2013-14 may have led polyether phosphate to be an ineffective seal. Though this is not a proven theory, it is the outlier that sets 2014 apart in recent history, Haas said.
City Encourages Property Owners To Replace Lead Pipes
The city’s lead service pipes are replaced with lead-free pipes every time a road is redone. A letter is also sent to all property owners near construction to encourage them to change out their lead service pipes, which averages in cost between $1,500 and $2,000, Mayor John Dickert said.
“We recognize that this is a large cost, so we are trying to figure out how to establish a low-interest loan program for homeowners,” says Dickert.
Testing Key For Certain Age Groups
The Wisconsin Physician’s Guide to Blood Lead Screening & Treatment of Lead Poisoning in Children recommends that children in the cities of Milwaukee and Racine have:
- A blood lead test three times before the age of three-years-old at 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months.
Children between the ages of 36-60 months who are uninsured or receiving Medicaid or WIC should continue with annual blood lead tests through 60 months of age.*
- Other children between the ages of 36-60 months should have blood lead tests if there is no record of a previous test, if they live in housing built before 1978 with recent or ongoing renovation, or they have a sibling or playmate who has lead poisoning.
- Screening and rates of lead poisoning in these cities indicates a need for more frequent testing, including the high risk Medicaid population.
* Annual testing of Medicaid children, as recommended for the cities of Milwaukee & Racine, will be covered by the Wisconsin Medicaid Program, but is not required.
Here are some resources to learn more:
- The Racine Water Utility has records of all line connections – call the utility to find out if any of your service lines are lead (262) 636-9181.
- Find out what’s in your water: http://www.cityofracine.org/Water
- For information on the impacts of lead exposure, visit http://www2.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead
- Test yourself and your children for lead by calling your primary care physicians for blood lead testing.
- To volunteer to have your water tested, call (262) 636-9181
Editor’s Note: This version corrects information about where parents can take their children for blood lead testing and gives more information on who should be tested.