New federal rules to protect Americans from lead in their drinking water are coming down the pipeline, and Village of New Paltz officials are intent on getting ahead of the mandate, which calls for determining how many lines connecting buildings to water service still contain lead, and then addressing the issue once that extent is known.
Lead was extensively used in water lines during the early 20th century, before it was recognized as a toxin that’s particularly dangerous to children. While lead water mains are now mostly nonexistent, the service lines that connect to individual homes are a different story. This is the pipe that runs from the water main to a connection with the building plumbing. Since portions of those smaller pipes are privately owned, there’s never been a large-scale inspection to see how many are many of this soft, dangerous metal.
The new environmental rules puts the responsibility for finding out onto local government leaders. Once that inventory is complete and the extent of the problem is clear, a plan for addressing it must be written and, ultimately, implemented. According to Ted Nitza of Walden Engineering, that will involve either replacing the service lines, or abating the problem in some way to keep lead from leaching into the water for that home.
Inspecting for lead does not require samples to be sent to a laboratory, according to Nitza: it’s easy to tell it apart from other plumbing materials, even in photographs. Lead has a whitish hue, and is soft enough to be easily scratched. Under the new federal scheme, all service lines are assumed to contain lead until it’s proven that they do not. One surefire way is by date: there is certainly no lead in lines of buildings constructed since 1986, and building records can be used to eliminate many structures. For other buildings, it may be possible to identify the makeup of the service line at the water meter. In some cases, digging may be required.
How all of this will be paid for is still not clear, but state officials have created a list of communities that could be in need of funding, for a start. Nitza has been authorized to complete the application to place the village on that list. A ranking system will be developed for this “intended use plan” list, which Nitza speculates could include criteria such as community income levels and documented lead issues. This entire process is expected to take years to complete.