Glades area residents are being warned to let their faucets run for as long as 2 minutes before drinking the water, after testing conducted last year found high lead levels coming from taps at 11 different properties in the region.
The county tested water at 61 properties in Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee in December and found that the average lead level in tap water was 44 parts per billion. The county is required to take action if lead levels exceed 15 parts per billion.
Lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. It can damage the brain and kidneys and interfere with production of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body.
Water samples taken from taps at the same 61 properties in June found average lead levels at 5 parts per billion — well below the federal action level. During those tests, only three properties had lead levels that exceeded 15 parts per billion.
County utility and health officials say old pipes and plumbing fixtures in homes and buildings in the Glades caused last year’s spike in lead levels. They stress that drinking water leaving the county’s treatment plant in the Glades has been tested and does not contain lead.
The county has launched a public information campaign to inform residents that lead levels may be elevated at some homes because of the older plumbing.
“There is no exceedance coming out of the plant or in the distribution system,” said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department. “The older pipes where they may have used lead are breaking down in the water in the home.”
Bevin Beaudet, director of the county’s water utilities department, said that many of the homes in the Glades have older plumbing with fixtures that may contain lead. When water stands in those plumbing systems for several hours, the lead can dissolve into drinking water, he said.
Beaudet said the region’s network of underground pipes do not contain lead.
“Out there the system is so old, all the fixtures, all that kind of stuff out there has all got some lead in it,” Beaudet said. “These samples are coming right out of the tap first flush.”
Residents in homes with older plumbing can minimize their exposure by letting the tap run for 30 seconds to two minutes before drinking or cooking with the water, county officials said.
O’Connor said that residents in homes along the coast should also let their water run if they suspect there is lead in their plumbing. However, he said, routine water quality testing has not found high lead levels in any of the county’s coastal utilities.
“It is potentially an issue that those pipes will break down,” O’Connor said.
In June, county officials sent a brochure to all Glades utility customers informing them that elevated levels of lead had been found at some homes in the area. County officials also recommended residents use cold water for drinking and baby formula if they suspected their plumbing contained lead.
Hot water can dissolve lead more quickly than cold water, the brochure warned. It recommended residents draw cold water from the tap and heat it on the stove.
South Bay resident Mary Rainey said Friday she didn’t know county officials found high lead levels in her home’s drinking water.
Of the 61 properties tested, Rainey’s home had the highest lead levels in both December and June. The lead level at her home was 1,401 parts per billion in December, according to a report released by the health department. Testing in June found the lead level had dropped to 200 parts per billion, another report showed — still well over the federal action level.
“I wasn’t aware of it,” Rainey said after hearing the results.
Rainey said she had not updated or changed the plumbing in her home between the two tests.
Jermaine Webb, a Glades area activist who has worked with County Commissioner Jess Santamaria, questioned the improvement.
“If the pipes are the issue, if you don’t remove the pipes, how can you remove the issue?” Webb said. “I don’t think the water is going to miraculously clean itself up.”
J.P. Sasser, the former mayor of Pahokee, said most residents in the Glades are not concerned about lead in the water.
“I am not hearing a peep,” he said.
If you suspect lead’s in your water:
- Flush your system: Let the water run for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using it.
- Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula: Hot water can dissolve more lead more quickly.
- Do not boil water: Boiling water will not reduce lead.
- Test your water: If you think you may have elevated lead levels in your drinking water, have it tested by a certified state laboratory.
- Test your children: Contact your health care provider to have your child tested for lead, if you are concerned about exposure.
- Replacing plumping: Replace old fixtures and plumping lines that may contain lead.
Source: Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department