vintage housing stock--or Porter’s or Burns Harbor’s--certainly isn’t any
younger than East Chicago’s.
Which means there’s
not a bad chance that the plumbing or water-service lateral of any given
older home in Duneland is made of lead.
That doesn’t mean,
though, that folks who live in a pre-war house here are drinking tap water
with elevated lead levels, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found
in 18 of 43 East Chicago homes tested late last year in the West Calumet
Complex neighborhood, an EPA Superfund Site.
conducted that testing to determine whether the excavation which will be
necessary to mitigate dangerously high lead levels in the soil--the West
Calumet Complex was built in the midst of three different historical lead
smelting or processing operations--would dislodge flakes of lead from those
homes’ service-laterals, causing the lead to enter and contaminate the
homes’ water supply.
EPA made it clear
at the time that the source of the lead in the water--in concentrations
above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb)--was in the
homes’ private service-laterals or in the plumbing itself, not in City of
East Chicago’s municipal water purification system.
On the other hand,
the Indiana Department of Environmental Management is working with
the City of East Chicago to develop the optimal blend for the corrosion
inhibitors which the city routinely adds to its water, to prevent old
service-laterals or plumbing from leaching lead into a home’s tap water.
Water Company (IAWC), which supplies Duneland--but not East Chicago--with
its water, uses the same kind of corrosion inhibitors, company spokesman Joe
Loughmiller told the Chesterton Tribune. “As a preventive measure, we
control the pH of the water and also feed corrosion inhibitors into our
Northwest Indiana system to help maintain a protective coating on the inside
of any lead service lines that may be out there,” he said.
It was the failure
of the City of Flint, Mich., to add those corrosion inhibitors, when it
began using water from the Flint River in 2014, which exposed between 6,000
and 12,000 children for months to lead in concentrations above the 15 ppb
level--and, in at least eight water samples taken, above 100 ppb.
Researchers subsequently found that the number of children with elevated
levels of lead in their blood had doubled since the city began using Flint
In any case,
Loughmiller noted, regular sampling, conducted in accordance with EPA
regulations, has shown that lead and copper traces in IAWC’s Northwest
Indiana water system are “consistently below the action level,” as lead and
copper traces similarly are in the company’s other systems around the state.
“EPA does provide
guidance to water utilities on how, where, and when we collect and evaluate
samples related to its lead and copper rule (LRC),” Loughmiller said. “In
particular, lead and copper regulations require utilities to sample at
locations that theoretically could be especially susceptible to high lead or
copper concentrations. Because these LCR results have been below the action
level over an extended period of time, all of our systems in Indiana are
only required by EPA to do LCR sampling every three years.”
How many of IAWC’s
lines in Duneland might still be old lead ones is unknown, Loughmiller
added. “Very few” for sure, “perhaps only 10 to 20 in this area.” And while
Loughmiller wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many “customer-owned”
service-laterals yet in the ground may be lead, it’s probably safe to say
that a house built before World War II could well have a lead lateral or
lead plumbing fixtures.
That’s the whole
point of controlling pH and adding corrosion inhibitors: to grandfather in,
so to speak, whatever antique piping there may still be behind the walls or
in the yard.
That’s not to say
that all of IAWC’s Duneland system is itself brand-spanking new. Depending
on the pipe’s material, how it was installed, and the kind of soil in which
it was buried, a pipe could last “as long as 80 to 100 years” or otherwise
need replacing “at 50 years or less,” Loughmiller said.
What mix there is
of old and new in any particular area Loughmiller couldn’t immediately say.
“Obviously we have some of each throughout Northwest Indiana and have done
quite a bit of pipe replacements there since acquiring the system. In 2016
alone, we invested more than $19 million in replacing old pipe in Northwest