State tests for lead in NC water

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 23, 2016

By Linda Culpepper

Special to the Salisbury Post

The recent lead contamination in Flint, Mich., highlights issues regarding the safety of drinking water.  Safe drinking water, so fundamental to human health and survival, does not happen by chance. Many dedicated professionals in the McCrory administration work together so that North Carolinians served by public water systems have a safe and reliable supply.

The majority of North Carolina citizens rely on public water systems for their water supply, ranging from small rural facilities to municipalities that serve large populations. The state environmental department regulates nearly 6,000 public water systems across the state to make sure they meet safe drinking water standards. North Carolina’s public drinking water supplies are the safest they’ve been historically due to increased monitoring and tightened regulations, and they serve an ever-growing percentage of the state’s population.

In children, the majority of elevated blood lead levels is caused by lead paint and dust. Lead exposure in drinking water in North Carolina typically does not come from service lines as in the Flint, Michigan scenario or from the water source. It typically leaches from lead in solder, pipes, and faucets, which are usually owned by the customer and not the water system. North Carolina’s Drinking Water Act also helps ensure that drinking water is not a significant contributing factor by requiring water systems to monitor the water for the presence of lead and take actions if lead is found above regulatory limits.

North Carolina goes beyond federal requirements by requiring that customers are notified within 48 hours of the water system learning about high lead levels. If lead levels are high in enough samples, water must be treated to reduce its ability to leach lead. Water systems must also educate customers about steps they can take to reduce lead exposure from drinking water. Citizens can view data for their water system online in Drinking Water Watch at https://www.pwss.enr.state.nc.us/NCDWW2/. Selecting PBCU Summaries, then MP Begin Date, will show all actual sample locations and analysis results for lead.

To help ensure that children are protected and that families have the help they need, information about sampling locations with high lead levels is provided daily to the state health department. The state performs random audits of water systems’ lead sampling procedures to ensure they are prepared for worst-case scenarios. While it is not possible to prevent all elevated lead results, state oversight and public education helps speed assistance while longer-term solutions are put in place.

Residents who get water from public systems should review their annual water quality report that arrives in the mail each spring for more information about the type and frequency of monitoring that is conducted and its results. Residents who drink from private wells that are not monitored are encouraged to have their own well tested periodically.

We can all agree that each day water exceeds a safety standard is one day too many. North Carolina’s state environmental department will continue to work with public water systems and the drinking water profession as issues arise and assist them in returning to compliance as quickly as possible.

Linda Culpepper is the deputy director of N.C. Division of Water Resources in the Department of Environmental Quality.

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