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Ohio adopts stricter lead testing for public water

By IVY KELLER • Oct 15, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Following events in Sebring, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan, this year, Ohio passed legislation in May to establish stricter lead and copper testing procedures. 

The law, House Bill 512, went into effect Sept. 9. It attempts to take a proactive approach in dealing with the issue of lead and copper-contaminated drinking water.

HB 512 sets shorter deadlines for notifying residents of lead, increases penalties for failing to report contamination and requires certain cities to map out the location of lead pipes, among other measures. It would require public water systems to notify consumers of lead within two days of receiving test results. Before the bill was passed, the deadline to notify residents was 30 days.

Before the bill was passed, water departments were already required to report lead and copper levels — among other things — in an annual test, which is then made public through the Consumer Confidence report.

If the entire water supply is found to exceed the lead action level, all customers are supposed to be notified within two days. As of 2015, Norwalk’s lead action level was 15 microliters (mcL). The city tested the system and found the lead level at 4mcL. A microliter clocks in at one-millionth of a liter.

“We test on an annual basis and turn those in to the EPA,” said Norwalk public works director Josh Snyder on Thursday.

He explained the city “(has) like 20 something residents that we have to test from. Those are designated by the EPA.”

Until the 1980s, lead was a popular choice of metal for plumbing. Now, some schools and institutions are trying to do their own testing before it becomes mandatory.

Norwalk City Schools recently found all but Norwalk High School failed the lead-water tests. The district announced 10 of 78 drinking fountains tested for excess levels of lead and the faucets were shut down on them.

“There’s a good chance for contamination on those old drinking fountains specifically,” Snyder said. 

Snyder said lead found in Norwalk water is likely to come from private lines, being picked up from old fixtures. The city has no lead main water lines in town.

“Private lines, a lot of times, are lead material,” he said. “It’s a soft metal. Back in the day it was easier to work with.”

Water systems have 120 days, or until January, to make all the changes outlined in the bill. Some cities like Cleveland have already complied — making information about their lead pipes available to the public.

Along with keeping the public informed, the bill also aims to quickly treat or remove any source of contamination. If water systems are not already doing so, they are now required to schedule lead and copper testing at a frequency based on factors like the age of the plumbing, pH level of the water, current corrosion control measures and other factors.

While testing tap water, there’s a chance the public water system may remove pipes or other fixtures. 

“(For) the owner or operator of a nontransient noncommunity water system,” the bill says, “immediately remove from service all fixtures identified as contributing to elevated lead levels.”

Public water systems are responsible for the service lines up until home property lines, but any pipes in houses or buildings — even those containing lead — are the responsibility of the that property’s owner.

If the system produces a sample from a tap that’s above the lead threshold, the bill gives a six-month deadline to “identify and map areas of the system that are known or are likely to contain lead service lines and identify characteristics of buildings served by the system that may contain lead piping, solder, or fixtures.”

In that case, water providers then must turn in this map to the departments of health and job and family services. 

Penalties for failing to report range between $25 and $1,000 for each day systems fail to report, depending on the size of the system.

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