Healthy Homes Issues Lead In Water Report

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The Healthy Homes Coalition partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund in 2016 to take a deep look into the safety of drinking water in Grand Rapids. Specifically, the groups were interested in knowing if street reconstruction including the replacement of water mains was posing any danger to the residents of Grand Rapids. In other cities, this kind of construction has been known to raise the content of lead in water above safe levels. Could the same be said of Grand Rapids?

The investigators wanted to look at a specific activity called "partial lead service line replacement." PLSLR has been conducted in municipalities across the nation and the impact upon lead-reduction in residential tap water has been varied. Since data about municipal PLSLR projects available to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is of insufficient size, precaution has notbeen adequately studied. However, in 2010 the CDC said:

“Preliminary results suggest that when lead service lines are partially replaced, that is the public portion of the line from the main to the meter is replaced, children are more likely to have blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 μg/dL, compared to children living in housing with either undisturbed lead service lines or service lines that are not made of lead.”

Due to a lack of testing, it is unclear if PLSLR in Grand Rapids had been resulting in elevated lead content in the water.

PLSLRs occur when the municipality replaces the portion of the service line to the home that is under its ownership and the homeowner does not replace the portion of the line under private ownership.  This is risky when the portion of the line under private ownership is an old lead service line (see illustration).

In Grand Rapids, approximately 1,700 PLSLRs have been performed on 165 streets since 2010. In order to understand the impact of PLSLRs on safe drinking water for Grand Rapids residents, the Healthy Homes Coalition received funding support from the Environmental Defense Fund, Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church, and John Hunting to test drinking water for residents after PLSLR. 

The Healthy Homes Coalition provided water test kit supplies and verbal instructions to residents at 96 properties, with six of the 96 households receiving the service both before and after PLSLR. There were 149 test samples analyzed, representing 75 test kits from 69 households. 

Eleven samples (7.4%) at nine addresses (12.0%) came back above 10 ppb, or 0.010 mg/L. Of the 11 elevated samples, eight were first draws. The three second draws that were elevated were all on the 1000 block of Oakdale SE, a matter that was reported to the water utility. 

While there is not significant evidence to indicate elevated lead content in drinking water following PLSLR in Grand Rapids, there is not adequate evidence to refute this claim either. The study found that renters were more likely to have elevated lead content and were more likely to have a higher level of elevation.

The Healthy Homes Coalition is pleased to announce that the City of Grand Rapids is implementing a full LSL replacement plan for 2017, which this project’s findings affirm as an effective step to ensuring safe drinking water for Grand Rapids residents. 

To read the full report, click the link below.
Lead Exposure After PLSLR: An Analysis of the Lead-Safe Drinking Water Confirmation Project 


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