Letter to the Editor

Pamela Marchand, P.E.
Bristol County Water Authority

1/22/16
Since the Flint, MI water system has been so prominently in the news regarding lead contamination of the water, the BCWA would like to let our customers know that our water is safe.

The BCWA tests for lead in the tap water in about 30 homes each year. Our results are typically less than 5 parts per billion for 90% of the samples. The EPA “action level” is 15 parts per billion at 90%. Exceedance of the action level limit requires a utility to “take action” – usually corrosion control – to reduce the lead levels.

Corrosive water can leach lead in household plumbing from lead service lines, lead-tin solder (used until 1986 in copper pipes), or from brass faucets. (Any lead service lines found in the system have been replaced by the BCWA). The BCWA obtains all of its water supply from Providence Water which treats the water to a pH of 10.3 to maintain an effective corrosion control.

In 2014 the City of Flint, MI switched to an old water supply (used for emergency back-up) to save money. The Flint River supply was of poor quality compared to the Great Lakes supply of treated water they had purchased from Detroit for 50 years. The City utilized a retired treatment plant, but did not add corrosion control to the highly corrosive water (probably to save money). The water corroded the iron pipes – resulting in rusty water, and dissolved other metals it contacted – such as lead in household plumbing. The chlorine reacted with the iron in the water, so they lost disinfection resulting in bacteria growth, with a possible connection to several Legionnaire disease outbreaks.

The City has switched back to Detroit water, but it will take some time for the distribution system to be “neutralized” by the conditioned water.

Meanwhile, the state and the federal government have declared a state of emergency based on the elevated blood lead levels reported in children.