Chesterton Tribune



Water company: Duneland water supply regularly tests safe for lead

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Chesterton’s 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.

EPA specifically 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.

Indiana American 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 River water.

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 Indiana.”


Posted 2/24/2017





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