City of Cloquet continues to test for lead in drinking water
By: Jim Prusak, Pine Journal
How many times have you gone to the kitchen faucet for a drink of water without giving it a second thought? The old standard was if the water came out when you turned it on, everything was fine. All that has changed, as the increased study of our environment has led to a heightened awareness that goes far beyond just keeping the grass watered. The question, nowadays, is whether or not the water is safe to drink.
The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards which protect the safety of all public drinking water supplies. In our state, the Minnesota Department of Health has the responsibility to administer and enforce this federal law. Among other things, the 1974 Act requires testing to check for 23 harmful contaminants in our water. Recent amendments have increased the number of regulated contaminants to 83. One of these new contaminants is lead.
Lead is a common metal found, to some extent, throughout our environment and in many consumer products. Common sources can include lead-based paint, batteries, some types of pottery and pewter, and contaminated air, soil and water. Lead is highly toxic and can build up in our bodies over time. In high enough concentrations, it can damage the brain, nervous system, red blood cells and kidneys. As with many toxins, infants, children and pregnant women are at greatest risk.
In municipal water supplies, it is rare that the source water from wells, lakes or rivers is already contaminated. Water can absorb lead from various plumbing materials once it has entered the system. The most likely sources in drinking water are lead pipes, lead solder, or brass fixtures in your own plumbing. Minnesota banned the use of lead solder in plumbing installations back in 1985. In older communities, lead service lines may connect your home with the water mains under the street.
The EPA has issued rules requiring all public water systems be tested for both lead and copper. Copper levels indicate how corrosive the water is and how easily it will absorb lead. In 1992, the city of Cloquet implemented an annual lead testing program which involved 40 specific homes within town. Where possible, “high risk” homes were chosen for sampling. Half of these involved homes in the older parts of town where lead pipes are most likely. The remaining half involved homes with copper plumbing where lead solder was used between 1982 and 1992.
Of the 40 homes selected, final test results from the past nine samplings have indicated either non-detectable lead levels or levels far below acceptable EPA limits. As a result, the state has greatly reduced our required sampling interval to once every three years. Samples will be picked up by the city and taken to a certified testing lab for analysis at no cost to the homeowner.
It is important to keep the lead testing program in perspective. Drinking water is only one potential source of lead exposure in the environment, and while lead is a serious health concern, it is relatively easy to reduce in our water and thereby minimize any risks.
At this time city officials do not anticipate a lead problem with Cloquet’s water but view the testing program as another tool to assist in meeting our goal of providing safe drinking water to the public.
For additional information about lead and drinking water, contact the Cloquet City Engineer’s Office at 879-6758.