NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - During federally-mandated testing, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority detected elevated levels of lead in the pipes of some New Hanover County homes.
The Environmental Protection Agency requires public utilities to regularly test certain homes for lead and copper — a practice known as the Lead and Copper Rule.
Homes built prior to 1986 are more likely to have copper pipes with lead-soldered joints. When they come into contact with treated drinking water, the water has the potential to cause corrosion on the joins, leading to elevated levels of copper and lead in drinking water. Both metals are hazardous to humans, and in high amounts can cause serious health issues.
That’s why utilities utilize corrosion control measures and CFPUA implements a set of chemicals that “coat” old pipes and can reduce the risk of corrosion, explained CFPUA Deputy Director Carel Vandermeyden.
The Lead and Copper Rule requires CFPUA to sample water from 30 homes in each of its water-treatment systems, and at least 90 percent of those sites must not exceed acceptable levels of the heavy metals. This year it’s the Richardson treatment plant, which serves the Ogden and Porters Neck areas, and CFPUA has completed about half of the tests.
In previous years, Vandermeyden said, the Richardson area has not had any elevated levels of lead.
That’s why, when one of the homes returned a result of 20 parts per billion (PPB), which is higher than the EPAs “acceptable” level of 15 PPB, CFPUA grew concerned.
It would take three additional readings exceeding 15 PPB for CFPUA to lose its good standing with the EPA, but Vandermeyden said they’ve already started looking into the issue.
“We’ve never been in violation, and right now we are not in any type of violation," Vandermeyden said. "But what we’re trying to do is to be proactive.”
Two other homes showed levels of 15 PPB, which doesn’t count against CFPUA, but is still more than they expect.
CFPUA has already evaluated its corrosion control measures and found them to be functioning properly, and has contacted the lab that did the testing to verify everything was handled correctly.
The board has also authorized the utility to contract with a consultant who will independently evaluate the test results and control mechanisms.
While only 30 homes will be tested, Vandermeyden said homes built prior to 1986 are still susceptible to lead and copper leaching out of pipes and into drinking water.
While the only way to completely avoid the metals would be to remove any piping containing them, there are small ways he says users can reduce their risk:
- Let water run for several seconds before drinking or using for cooking
- Only drink or use cold tap water
- Change out faucets to newer units
CFPUA will continue testing the remaining 15 homes over the next several weeks.