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Lead in the Water: Why more metro Detroit communities will soon discover issues

Why more lead will be discovered, and how to protect yourself
Posted: 5:22 PM, Oct 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-23 15:38:43-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — This isn’t the Flint Water Crisis, but that doesn’t mean it deserves less attention. When Michigan changed its lead and copper rules, it did so for a purpose: in many cases, people have been drinking dangerous water without even knowing it.

The latest headlines have drawn attention – water advisories have gone out in Birmingham, White Lake Township, Oak Park, Garden City, Dearborn Heights and parts of Livingston County.

They aren’t the first to realize issues, and they won’t be the last this year.

A spokesperson for Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy told 7 Action News, “We will likely find more communities exceeding the new lead action level.”

They explained that the water quality hasn’t changed, but that new more strict standards are now in place. That’s true, but some water experts — like Elin Betanzo —point out that this means we’ve been potentially drinking dangerous water for years.

Betanzo, a water engineer who was integral in uncovering the Flint Water Crisis, told 7 Action News that the new lead and copper rules require a type of testing that ensures we’re getting the full picture when it comes to lead in the water.

“You’re more likely to measure higher levels of lead that you may have been drinking all along,” she said.

KNOWN ISSUES WITH LEAD SERVICE LINES

A lot of attention is being paid to lead service lines right now because they’re a major obstacle to overcoming the lead in water issues facing Michigan.

Michigan’s new law requires that water utilities update records to identify which homes in their systems are relying on lead service lines, and to remove them all by 2040.

Previously, lead service lines were considered a homeowner's responsibility. Michigan’s new rules now put the onus on utilities to remove and replace the lines — at least 5 percent must be removed every year, moving forward.

Lead service lines pose an issue because while water typically has anti-corrosion additives to ensure lead doesn’t enter the system, it works best when water is moving. That means when water sits while a homeowner is sleeping, or is at school/work, it doesn’t work as well.

“When it sits more and more, lead can dissolve in the water and you never know when you could be drinking that in your home,” explained Betanzo.

ADDITIONAL ISSUES THAT COULD HARM YOUR WATER

And while lead service lines are the likely culprit behind the latest water advisories sent out in local municipalities, it’s not the only issue that poses a threat. By law, fixtures marketed as “lead-free” could contain up to 8 percent lead up until 2014.

The new standards allow for less lead, but “lead-free” still doesn’t have to be lead free. There are also issues with lead solder that’s been used inside of some older homes — all issues that can be fixed, but come at a cost.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW

One of the safest things you can do is purchase a filter that says it removes lead. Water quality experts will tell you to look for a filter that says it complies by NSF Standards 42 and 53. You can find these types of filters for pitchers, attachments for your sink, and even refrigerators that dispense water — but you need to make sure you don’t use them with hot water, as hot water can ruin the filter.

While boiling water is helpful for bacteria-based contaminants, it’s not helpful in removing lead from water.