After lead scare, more flushing urged to remove sediment

Dayton water officials not convinced construction caused lead issues at hospital

The state of Ohio is reviewing some protocols for its public water systems following lead contamination in the water supply at Miami Valley Hospital.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency director Craig Butler said this week that the city should revise its flushing protocols when doing construction and pipe work to remove sediment.

“I think it’s important for the city to update their flushing protocol,” Butler said. “It’s actually something now that we are talking with all of our public water systems about to make sure if they’re making revisions and adjustments in construction activity, that they have an aggressive, pre-flushing campaign to remove sediment.”

Hospital officials announced last week that a road construction project on Warren and Brown streets near the hospital likely disturbed sediment, causing elevated lead levels that forced Miami Valley to shut down water sources in three buildings for more than 20 days.

With lead levels now below actionable levels for EPA standards, the hospital will go back to testing the water supply in its southeast addition every six months. Testing must come back negative for two consecutive six-month cycles to be cleared by the agency.

A major feed line for water to the hospital was part of the construction work, and once the hospital switched from that source there has not been any issues with lead, hospital officials said.

City not convinced

The hospital hired a team of water experts to examine the problem, including Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards and water quality consultant Tim Keane. Keane said the situation underscores the need for a “robust, high-velocity hydrant flushing program.”

Flushing ensures that sediment exits the system and does not affect water quality. There will be construction to other service lines surrounding the hospital — lines on Wyoming and Magnolia streets are likely to be replaced. The city tests the water supply at least a couple times a month to ensure levels are within acceptable ranges.

But city officials aren’t convinced the construction is the cause of the hospital’s lead issues.

“I can’t say I’ve received all the answers to the questions I’d like to have,” said Michael Powell, interim director of the water department.

Keane said it is “baffling” that city officials were presented with these clear issues and “came to the conclusion they did.”

“It amazes me with the city going through a major pipe renovation, major road work and major partial lead pipe replacement that this road or pipe project was not the first target of the city and the Ohio EPA investigation when lead was found in Miami Valley Hospital,” Keane said.

Spending millions

Tammi Clements, Dayton’s deputy city manager, said the city’s water line system is made up of cast iron and ductile iron pipes. She said none of it is made of lead.

Powell said the new mains being installed are made of ductile iron. From 2013 through 2015, the city has installed 18.5 miles of new main lines — costing about $24 million. The city would like to replace 10 percent of the lines within a decade, according to Powell.

Mains are replaced based on age and size of the line, the material of the line, where it’s located and pre-planned construction in the area.

City officials say they take construction very seriously, and have procedures in place to ensure water quality is not affected when pipe work is completed. They’re not sure why the construction would impact the hospital while other businesses and residences in the area remained unaffected.

Clements said the service lines that feed from the city’s main distribution system can be made from lead piping, but those connections are typically installed by developers and others. Butler said having lead service lines isn’t necessarily a problem, but system operators should be aware of their locations.

Lead issues rare

Powell said the city does not keep an inventory of where lead service lines are located.

“Just because you have a lead service line does not mean you have a lead contaminating issue in your house,” Butler said. “There are ways you can manage that. You can either take those lines out or you can manage it chemically.

“It’s called a corrosion control program where they’re adding certain chemicals in their water supply to coat the inside of the pipes to set up a barrier between the water flowing through the pipes and any lead that might be in the plumbing itself.”

Butler said the city and state do not have systemic issues with lead contamination. Only 11 public water systems in the state have drinking advisories for lead, according to the Ohio EPA.

When water operators fail to comply with state and federal standards, EPA officials said they will take action to ensure safe water for the public.

State officials are not concerned with Dayton’s public water system.

“They were obviously producing quality water and providing the rest of the city with quality water,” Butler said. “If they continue operating in the way they have, they’ll be on a good path.”

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