Tag Archives: lead

July 13, 1916: Required to Use Lead Pipes and Polio Connection to Clean Streets

July 13, 1916: Municipal Journal articles.

Lead service line attached to a household water meter

Enforce Use of Lead Service Pipes. “Philadelphia, Pa.-To preserve the water supply and to help keep the streets of the city in proper condition, chief Carlton T. Davis of the bureau of water has announced that all private pipe carrying water from the public mains in the streets to buildings must be of lead from the main to the stop at the curb. The issuance of the order is possible because of the enactment of a recent ordinance by councils. At present, according to Chief Davis, about two thousand service pipes develop leaks under the paved roadways each year. This means that the water bureau loses water, the householder is subject to annoyance and the public is inconvenienced by the digging up of the streets. The bulk of service pipe leaks are caused by the use of improper material which is quickly corroded. There are more than 350,000 service pipes in use. A great many of these are of lead and give no trouble. The ordinance just passed gives the chief of the bureau of water the power to enforce the use of proper pipes.”

Commentary: I was unaware of such an ordinance in Philadelphia. I have found that dozens of other cities had similar ordinances. I have been told that the State of Pennsylvania required lead service lines early in the 20th century. In 1897, Flint, Michigan passed an ordinance requiring the installation of lead service lines. What a calamity for drinking water consumers. We are reaping the whirlwind of such decisions many years later. The graphic above shows the impact of lead exposure (paint and water) on children’s blood lead levels in 20 Pennsylvania cities (taken from a 2014 report).

Blood lead levels of children in Pennsylvania cities showing impact of lead paint and lead service lines

Infantile Paralysis and Clean Streets. “Children of all classes have been leaving New York by the tens of thousands during the past week to escape the dreaded infantile paralysis, which has already attacked considerably more than a thousand of them and carried off about quarter of a thousand to date. These known facts are alarming enough, but probably what gives the exodus almost the nature of a panic is the unknown-the fact that no one understands how the disease is communicated from one to another. The germ is believed to enter through the noze [sic] or mouth or both; but how it is carried is a matter of surmise. Furs and furry animals, flies, the sneezing of human beings and even contact with them are considered to be possible causes.

It is noticed that most of the cases are found amid surroundings that are below the average in cleanliness, and therefore many suspect that dirt is in some way connected with the origin of the disease. As a result, housewives are being arrested and fined by the hundred for violations of city ordinances relative to uncovered garbage cans and other collections of putrescible matters, for they rather than the street cleaning and refuse collection forces are to blame for these conditions, although these forces are being increased in number and stirred to greater activity and thoroughness; the aim being to get and keep the city as clean as possible.

Commentary: While this article is not about water directly, it tells a lot about how society was dealing with the unknown during this period. If anyone doubted that the miasma theory of disease (bad smells from decaying organic material makes people sick) was still alive and well in 1916, all they have to do is read this article. While passing mention is given to the germ causing the disease, the author falls back onto filth and dirt being the ultimate breeding place for such germs—just as in the 19th century. Parents must have been terrified that such an epidemic of unknown cause was taking away their children.

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June 7, 1991: Lead Copper Rule Published

June 7, 1991:In 1991, EPA published the Lead and Copper Rule to minimize lead and copper in drinking water. The rule replaced the previous standard of 50 ppb, measured at the entry point to the distribution system. The rule established a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) of zero for lead in drinking water and a treatment technique to reduce corrosion within the distribution system….

Lead and copper enter drinking water primarily through plumbing materials. Exposure to lead and copper may cause health problems ranging from stomach distress to brain damage. On June 7, 1991, EPA published a regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water. This regulation is known as the Lead and Copper Rule (also referred to as the LCR or 1991 Rule).

The treatment technique for the rule requires systems to monitor drinking water at customer taps. If lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb or copper concentrations exceed an action level of 1.3 ppm in more than 10% of customer taps sampled, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion. If the action level for lead is exceeded, the system must also inform the public about steps they should take to protect their health and may have to replace lead service lines under their control.”

Commentary: This short entry hardly seems worthy of a regulation and a water quality problem that has captured the imagination of politicians, citizens and the media. The Flint Crisis crystalizes a few important issues in this complicated regulation, which was not applied properly in Flint, MI, after a change in water source on April 25, 2014. For an in depth exploration of the issues and problems of the Flint Crisis, consult the July 2016 issue of the Journal American Water Works Association.

The front of the Flint Water Plant is seen in Flint, Michigan January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply; 1926: New York Harbor a Menace

April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply, Flint, MI. An article published online memorialized the change earlier that day from treated water from Detroit, Michigan, to the raw water supply of the Flint River and the activation of the Flint Water Plant. The photo from that article reproduced above shows local and state officials toasting each other with water from the Flint plant. I am certain that most of them would be happy to have their images removed from that and similar photographs.

About a month after the change, residents of Flint began to complain about discolored water and odors from the new water supply. The water coming out of city taps was orange, red, yellow and brown. City and State officials tried to assure Flint citizens that the water was safe to drink even after repeated failures of primary drinking water regulations: Total Coliform Rule and the trihalomethane regulation. But the worst was yet to come.

Once the water from the Flint River was demonstrated to be more corrosive to iron and steel than water from Detroit, someone in the water department, treatment plant staff, City administration or Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, drinking water regulatory agency) should have asked the question, “What about corrosion of the 15,000 lead service lines serving water to homes in the City?”

Some stories about what happened in Flint state that the USEPA asked MDEQ if optimized treatment was being applied to prevent corrosion of lead service lines (LSLs). The MDEQ representative assured the USEPA that everything was just fine.

What we now know is that the treated Flint River water was highly corrosive to lead and levels greater than 10,000 ug/L have been found in some home samples. Hundreds of samples have been found to contain lead above the 15 ug/L State and federal action level. Young children who are most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead were exposed at high concentrations, which ultimately showed up as elevated blood lead levels in thousands of children.

It took the persistence of one mother in town, a smart, courageous doctor and an activist engineering professor to blow the whistle and get everyone to start paying attention to a public health emergency. Citizens of Flint owe a great deal to LeeAnne Walters, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards. Miguel Del Toral of the USEPA did everything that he could to ring alarm bells once he understood what was happening. Later reporting by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC brought the crisis to national attention and helped start a national discussion of the solutions needed.

Extremely high lead levels are being reported in some Flint homes many months after the shift back to Detroit water with phosphate treatment. Why is that happening? The interior surfaces of lead pipe in the Flint service area have been badly disrupted and phosphate treatment is not fixing the problem. Flint citizens should also be highly suspicious of lead results from first flush samples, which are mandated by the Lead and Copper Rule. Research has now shown that spikes of extremely high lead concentrations do not occur until more water is flushed through the system and the water that has been stagnating in lead pipes overnight is sampled and analyzed.

Here are a few questions with my best efforts to answer them.

Where did the LSLs in Flint come from and why were they installed? I found an 1897 City of Flint Ordinance that required the use of lead pipe to connect water mains to homes. I have found dozens and there must be hundreds of ordinances for other cities like this in the literature. Lead was the preferred material because other materials such as iron and steel pipes corroded away. Ironically, lead was considered a more durable material for service lines. Copper and plastic pipes were not commercially available until much later.

Why do local officials claim that water is safe to drink when it looks like orange Kool-Aid, smells like rotten eggs and tastes like sucking on a rusty nail? I have seen statements like this from city and water utility officials across the U.S. They should know by now that stating something that is clearly false to the people experiencing the delivery of bad water destroys the utility’s credibility and makes everyone angry. The only possible response is: “The water is disgusting, and even though it meets all health standards, it does not meet our standards. We are sorry. We are going to find out why this is happening and we are going to fix it.”

How in the world could this have happened? Who is responsible? Governor Rick Snyder likes to say that it happened because of a failure of government at all levels. For once, I agree with him. However, it appears to me that he says this as a way to dilute the responsibility of his administration, his state-appointed emergency manager and the state regulatory agency, the MDEQ. If the state agencies had been focused on protecting public health and not saving a few dollars, the lead poisoning disaster in Flint would never have happened. But City officials, water department personnel and the consultant who made recommendations for treatment plant upgrades also deserve some of the blame. If one person or a group of these people had stood up and raised holy hell and demanded corrosion testing of the new water supply, the crisis would have been avoided. There are lessons to learn from this disaster for everyone who is involved in serving drinking water in this country.

What about LSLs? Should they be replaced? Yes. NOW. A big mistake was made in 1991 with the adoption of the Lead and Copper Rule that did not require the replacement of all LSLs in the U.S. Also, the allowance of partial replacement of LSLs made lead exposure of the public far worse. Everyone involved in drinking water and public health should demand that the federal Lead and Copper Rule Long-Term Revisions include an accelerated schedule for replacing LSLs. Also, we should not get confused about who foots the bill. Society made the decision in the 19th and 20th centuries to use lead pipe. The homeowners and utility personnel who installed lead pipes are long dead. The total cost for LSL replacement should be paid for by utilities (with cost recovery from increased water rates) with some help from state and federal governments to seed the process and get it done. Society caused the problem and it is up to all of us to fix it. There are 6.1 million LSLs in this country and they need to be ripped out and completely replaced without delay.

References:

Adams, D. 2014. Closing the Valve on History: Flint Cuts Water Flow From Detroit after nearly 50 years. Michigan Live. (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/04/closing_the_valve_on_history_f.html Accessed April 24, 2016).

Cornwell, D.A., R.A. Brown and S.H. Via. 2016. National Survey of LSL Occurrence. Jour. AWWA. April. http://dx.doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2016.108.0086

McGuire, M.J. 2016. Flint, Michigan: Lessons to Live By. Keynote address presented at the California Nevada Section Spring Conference, Sacramento, California. March 22.

Ordinances of the City of Flint, Michegan. Rules of the Common Council. 1897. page 142-3. (http://bit.ly/1UEq1BG Accessed March 21, 2016).

Update: In 2017, Flint was allocated about $100 million of public money to replace their lead service lines. Society has solved one city’s problem but there are many more cities that need a total replacement of their LSLs.

April 25, 1926: New York Times headline—Harbor Sewage Called a Menace to Health. “State Legislature Urged to Take Action to Halt Pollution of New York Waters — Many Cities Pour Their Raw Waste Into the Bay. A report just submitted to the Legislature of New York urges drastic action to protect the City of New York against the menace to health arising from the pollution of the harbor and near-by bathing beaches, not only by New York but by other cities and States. Dr. George W. Soper who was Director of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission stated that every day, 940 million gallons of sewage per day were poured into the harbor every day. He called the situation a ‘direct offense upon the sense of decency…a constant menace to health.’”

October 11, 1961: Dedication of LaDue Reservoir; 1989: Water-Main Break Spews Asbestos Into 8th Ave.; 1988: Less Lead in Rivers

1011 LaDue ReservoirOctober 11, 1961:  Dedication of Wendell R. LaDue Reservoir. LaDue Reservoir is a water supply, flood control and recreation reservoir located in Geauga County, Ohio, in the northeastern part of the state. The reservoir was originally called the “Akron City Reservoir” before it was renamed for Wendell R. LaDue. Wendell R. LaDue was a water supply visionary who made many improvements to the water supply for Akron, Ohio. He was born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio on October 1, 1894. He earned his BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1918. Shortly afterwards, he joined the staff of the Akron Waterworks.

While serving as its manager, LaDue developed a watershed plan to insure adequate clean water supply. The plan included purchasing property along the Cuyahoga River and building a series of reservoirs. In 1932, the City of Akron began purchasing property along the Cuyahoga River in Geauga County and removing homes and farms to protect the watershed. LaDue oversaw the construction of the 695 acres Rockwell Lake, the 395 acres East Branch in 1938, and the 1,477 acres Akron City Reservoir, now called LaDue Reservoir, in 1961. The capacity of the three reservoirs is 10.5 billion gallons.

In 1947, LaDue founded the Akron-Canton Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In honor of his contributions, the Wendell R. LaDue Civil Engineer Award is awarded each year by the ASCE to a member who has promoted professionalism and the advancement of the civil engineering profession. In 1946 and 1947, LaDue was the president of the American Water Works Association. Since 2003, several Wendell R. LaDue Utility Safety Awards are presented by the AWWA to recognize distinguished water utility safety programs.

LaDue retired from the City of Akron in 1963, and began teaching at the University of Akron where he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Engineering Degree.”

1011 Main Break NYCOctober 11, 1989New York Times headline–Water-Main Break Spews Asbestos Into 8th Ave. “A water main burst at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and West 43d Street yesterday, sending asbestos-laden mud gurgling up the avenue and cascading down onto the IND subway tracks below, officials said.

The police closed West 43d Street and blocked off several lanes of Eighth Avenue while the City Department of Environmental Protection tested the mud to determine the level of asbestos, which was scattered from underground steam pipes.

A spokeswoman for the environmental agency, Tina Casey, said that the first round of tests showed varying amounts of asbestos, with one sample above ground containing 60 percent. Anything greater than 1 percent asbestos is considered hazardous, she said.”

1011 Leaded GasolineOctober 11, 1988New York Times headline–Science Watch; Less Lead in Rivers. “A decline in lead contamination in major American rivers has been found at two-thirds of 300 sites studied from 1974 to 1985, scientists at the United States Geological Survey have reported.

The report chiefly attributed the decline to a 75 percent drop in use of leaded gasoline in that period. The most rapid drop in lead content was recorded from 1979 to 1980, when use of leaded gasoline took its sharpest drop.

Preliminary analyses of more recent data indicate that the decline in lead contamination is continuing.”

September 24, 1986: Lead Regulation

0924 Lead solder copper pipeSeptember 24, 1986New York Times headline–New Rules Limit Lead In Water Supply Pipes. “The Environmental Protection Agency today announced new limits on the use of lead in piping systems for public drinking water supplies.

The limits, authorized by amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, affect construction of new homes and other buildings, repairs on existing homes that get their water from public systems and modifications to the systems themselves, according to the E.P.A.

The rules ban the use of solder containing more than two-tenths of 1 percent of lead and the use of pipes and fittings with more than 8 percent lead content.”

July 13, 1916: Required to Use Lead Pipes and Polio Connection to Clean Streets

Blood lead levels of children in Pennsylvania cities showing impact of lead paint and lead service lines

Blood lead levels of children in Pennsylvania cities showing impact of lead paint and lead service lines

July 13, 1916: Municipal Journal articles.

Enforce Use of Lead Service Pipes. “Philadelphia, Pa.-To preserve the water supply and to help keep the streets of the city in proper condition, chief Carlton T. Davis of the bureau of water has announced that all private pipe carrying water from the public mains in the streets to buildings must be of lead from the main to the stop at the curb. The issuance of the order is possible because of the enactment of a recent ordinance by councils. At present, according to Chief Davis, about two thousand service pipes develop leaks under the paved roadways each year. This means that the water bureau loses water, the householder is subject to annoyance and the public is inconvenienced by the digging up of the streets. The bulk of service pipe leaks are caused by the use of improper material which is quickly corroded. There are more than 350,000 service pipes in use. A great many of these are of lead and give no trouble. The ordinance just passed gives the chief of the bureau of water the power to enforce the use of proper pipes.”

Commentary: I was unaware of such an ordinance in Philadelphia. I have found that dozens of other cities had similar ordinances. I have been told that the State of Pennsylvania required lead service lines early in the 20th century. In 1897, Flint, Michigan passed an ordinance requiring the installation of lead service lines. What a calamity for drinking water consumers. We are reaping the whirlwind of such decisions many years later. The graphic above shows the impact of lead exposure (paint and water) on children’s blood lead levels in 20 Pennsylvania cities (taken from a 2014 report).

Infantile Paralysis and Clean Streets. “Children of all classes have been leaving New York by the tens of thousands during the past week to escape the dreaded infantile paralysis, which has already attacked considerably more than a thousand of them and carried off about quarter of a thousand to date. These known facts are alarming enough, but probably what gives the exodus almost the nature of a panic is the unknown-the fact that no one understands how the disease is communicated from one to another. The germ is believed to enter through the noze [sic] or mouth or both; but how it is carried is a matter of surmise. Furs and furry animals, flies, the sneezing of human beings and even contact with them are considered to be possible causes.

It is noticed that most of the cases are found amid surroundings that are below the average in cleanliness, and therefore many suspect that dirt is in some way connected with the origin of the disease. As a result, housewives are being arrested and fined by the hundred for violations of city ordinances relative to uncovered garbage cans and other collections of putrescible matters, for they rather than the street cleaning and refuse collection forces are to blame for these conditions, although these forces are being increased in number and stirred to greater activity and thoroughness; the aim being to get and keep the city as clean as possible.

Commentary: While this article is not about water directly, it tells a lot about how society was dealing with the unknown during this period. If anyone doubted that the miasma theory of disease (bad smells from decaying organic material makes people sick) was still alive and well in 1916, all they have to do is read this article. While passing mention is given to the germ causing the disease, the author falls back onto filth and dirt being the ultimate breeding place for such germs—just as in the 19th century. Parents must have been terrified that such an epidemic of unknown cause was taking away their children.

June 7, 1991: Lead Copper Rule Published

0607 Lead Copper RuleJune 7, 1991:In 1991, EPA published the Lead and Copper Rule to minimize lead and copper in drinking water. The rule replaced the previous standard of 50 ppb, measured at the entry point to the distribution system. The rule established a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) of zero for lead in drinking water and a treatment technique to reduce corrosion within the distribution system….

Lead and copper enter drinking water primarily through plumbing materials. Exposure to lead and copper may cause health problems ranging from stomach distress to brain damage. On June 7, 1991, EPA published a regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water. This regulation is known as the Lead and Copper Rule (also referred to as the LCR or 1991 Rule).

The treatment technique for the rule requires systems to monitor drinking water at customer taps. If lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb or copper concentrations exceed an action level of 1.3 ppm in more than 10% of customer taps sampled, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion. If the action level for lead is exceeded, the system must also inform the public about steps they should take to protect their health and may have to replace lead service lines under their control.”

Commentary: This short entry hardly seems worthy of a regulation and a water quality problem that has captured the imagination of politicians, citizens and the media. The Flint Crisis crystalizes a few important issues in this complicated regulation, which was not applied properly in Flint, MI, after a change in water source on April 25, 2014. For an in depth exploration of the issues and problems of the Flint Crisis, consult the July 2016 issue of the Journal American Water Works Association.

The front of the Flint Water Plant is seen in Flint, Michigan January 13, 2016.  REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The front of the Flint Water Plant is seen in Flint, Michigan January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook