BY MELANIE BUCK –
Following the Flint, Mich. water crisis that has left thousands with lead contamination, many have wondered how close to home a crisis like that could hit. The Pulse recently sat down with Mena Water Department Manager Charles Pitman and Water Treatment Plant Supervisor Sawyer Manley to discuss the issue.
According to Pitman, Mena Water has tested well in previous years, putting them on a reduced monitoring schedule and requires testing only every three years. This year, they will test again for any lead contamination. “We are less than 20% of the maximum amount allowed. In fact, it’s lower than the detectable level,” said Sawyer. In fact, the most lead that was detected in the last report was .003 ppm (parts per million). To make it to the ‘action level’ it would have to be more than .015 ppm. This year’s testing will occur in late spring and Pitman said they are looking for sample homes now.
Pitman explained the testing process, saying they pull water from around 40 homes in the area as samples. Only homes that still have copper or galvanized pipes are sampled. “It’s not something that comes from the source. It comes from personal homes and what kind of plumbing they have. You have lead in copper lines because of where they are sautered together and galvanized lines are metal pipe so it ‘leaches’ lead, pulling it out of the pipe,” Pitman said. When water sits in pipes made of those materials, the risk of being exposed to lead is greater.
One way that you keep from being exposed is to flush your faucets and clear any sitting water from the lines. Turn on the faucets and let it run a couple of minutes and that pulls the fresh water from the service line and pulls any sitting water out of the lines. Pitman said that although it sounds like a lot of waste when you run your water for two minutes, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference on your bill and the water will taste better as well.
Pitman said Mena Water has worked hard to create a safe source of water for consumers and has replaced almost all galvanized pipes in their system. They have so little of it still left that the last two testing sessions have all been on personal homes.
To keep even the oldest homes with copper or galvanized pipe safer, Sawyer explained what they do at the water plant. “We keep the pH balanced just right at the plant. We have a little bit of hardness in our water, soft water is too corrosive so we keep ours balanced a little hard. We also have a phosphate based corrosion inhibitor as an additional preventative measure that keeps the pipes from leaching or corroding.” This is something that Flint, Mich. failed to do, preventative stabilization of the water when they change sources.
“In the Flint crisis, one of the things that the water company did was switched sources and they didn’t change the treatment of the water. They could have had the corrosion inhibitor in there that could have lowered the chances of it happening. They also didn’t’ keep the hardness of their water at a good level. That’s why we take those measures. It’s a little more difficult to keep it in the hardness pH but we do it. It costs a little bit more but for issues like this, our customers don’t have to worry about the health concerns,” Pitman explained.