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Ohio water systems to map where lead pipes are located

A new Ohio law is tightening the notification and reporting processes for when elevated levels of lead are found in drinking water, and city officials are now mapping where lead pipes are located at in the public water systems.

Ohio House Bill 512 went into effect in early September after Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation. The amendments and new law required the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to adopt rules to address lead notification and testing within 120 days after the effective date of H.B. 512, according to an OEPA fact sheet.

That time period ended just days ago.

Identifying lead in a water system is important because lead exposure has been linked to cognitive impairments and IQ loss in children and fetal death for pregnant women, among other problems for adults. The Clark County Combined Health District found all children should be tested at age one and again at age two, but most children go untested.

There is no safe level of lead consumption, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Under the law, water systems have to identify and map the lead lines in their systems. The deadline to complete the mapping is March 9. Toni Bankston, City of Dayton spokeswoman, said the city started the mapping process in 2016 and is on schedule to complete the process by the end of this month.

Most main lines in the region are made of ductile iron and sometimes caste iron or plastic, but are not typically lead-based pipes. Service lines, however, are often made of lead if they have not been replaced recent years. Standard procedure for most cities is to replace the old pipes with copper ones.

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Dayton began an ambitious project in 2013 to replace about 1 percent of its more than 800 miles of water and sewer infrastructure each year.

As part of its asset management program the city of Dayton since 2013 has replaced about 23 miles of water main at a cost of $29.4 million.

An area map will be made available on the Dayton water department’s website. Lead lines can be identified by looking at plumbing codes, consumer self-reporting historical permit records, and through information obtained during maintenance activities like meter replacements, water main breaks and when service lines are being replaced.

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In Butler County, the law has not significantly impacted operating protocols, said Bob Leventry, director of the county’s water and sewer department. As a newer water system, he said he isn’t aware of any lead lines in the system.

“Our water system has copper lines,” he said.

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said the OPEA has developed and published guidance and mailers to communicate the new requirements to public water systems operators. The agency has also given presentations and hosted webinars for operators and the laboratories performing the analyses.

The Ohio EPA will issue violations for water systems that fail to complete the mapping before the March deadline, Griesmer said. The law impacts public water systems in a myriad of other ways:

• It expedites the public notice of lead contamination in water. Under the law, public water system operators have to provide notice of the results of individual tap samples to owners and people served at the location where the sample was taken. This has be completed no later than two business days after the sample results are taken.

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• If a lead sample is above the lead threshold level, public water system owners must provide information on health screenings and blood lead level testings to the impacted people. They also have to provide notice of the laboratory results to the local board of health no later than two business days after the results were received.

• If a public water system is above the lead action level, the system owner must provide notice to all consumers within two days after the sample results are received. Consumers who are known or likely to have lead service lines, lead pipes or lead solder must be notified about the availability of tap water testing.

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• Public water systems have 30 days after samples exceed the actionable level to comply with public education requirements and provide information about blood testing and health screenings.

In addition, the new law requires more information in the annual consumer confidence report, Griesmer said. Reports must include lead sample results, education and action the public water system is taking to reduce exposure to lead.

Bankston said the law has not changed the city’s protocol for monitoring or analyzing lead results. It has changed how they report elevated levels of lead in the water.

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“To be in compliance with the new rule, Dayton’s Water Quality Laboratory must report all results to the Ohio EPA within 24 hours of analysis for all samples, including sample results that are below detection limit,” Bankston said.

An investigation by this newspaper found that most public water systems across the nation have engaged in an expensive process of replacing their aging main and service lines.

But in most cases the replacements don’t include the connecting pipes that run on private property — and are made of lead. That means new lines are running water into the existing lines that run into homes and businesses in the region, many of them older structures.

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Critics say these partial replacements can increase lead levels in these structures, and they say public officials aren’t doing enough to alert people to the dangers of exposure.

“(Water utilities) offer to the consumer: ‘You can replace your part of the lead pipe,’ ” said Marc Edwards, the expert who discovered the Flint, Mich. water crisis. “But they never tell the consumer that if they don’t do that, they might be endangering the health of their family. If they were honest about the health risk, that would raise questions about the whole program.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is assessing the effectiveness of replacing only part of the water infrastructure. Federal guidelines also require water systems serving more than 50,000 people — such as in Dayton or Cincinnati — to implement a corrosion control program through chemical treatment to the drinking water.

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The new Ohio law is more stringent than the Federal Lead and Copper Rule, which is currently being reviewed and is often criticized for its shortcomings. The push to replace lead pipes in U.S. water systems began decades ago with the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule. The law, which was revised in 2000 and 2007, applies to 68,000 public water systems nationwide.

“The new Ohio rules will help water utilities and regulators identify possible areas of concern,” Bankston said.

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