High lead traced to homes
Wausau Daily Herald - April 20, 2009 - Amy Ryan
Some Schofield and Mosinee residents have recorded elevated lead levels in their water, a problem both municipalities say they're working to address.
The culprit appears to be aging plumbing in homes, not the wells that supply water to residents. Municipalities are required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 to routinely test water supplies, and those tests revealed the problem.
"The samples are taken in private homes, because the lead is not coming from the groundwater or the water system. It's dissolving from the plumbing materials," said Glenn Falkowski, state Department of Natural Resources water supply engineer in Wausau.
Many homes built before 1984 have lead pipes or solder, either in pipes running from city supply lines to the home or within the home's plumbing.
Lead is toxic at elevated levels, and if ingested can cause a variety of neurological and other ailments.
Even though the lead in Mosinee and Schofield appears to originate in homes, municipalities are required to adjust their water supplies to address the problem. They do that by adding chemicals or taking other measures.
"It's the corrosive water that causes the lead to dissolve, so if you fix the corrosive water, the lead will not dissolve," Falkowski said.
Residents who have lead pipes running to their homes can have them replaced, but it can be costly.
"It's hard to replace any one for less than a couple thousand dollars," said Ron Feit, vice president and co-owner of plumbing contractor France Sales and Service in Schofield.
Feit recommends residents have their water tested before they do anything else.
"The older pipes, as long as they get coated with minerals and deposits from the water, that tends to seal it off, and there's not an elevated lead level," he said. "If you're really concerned with it, get a water test. If you have high levels of lead, get it replaced. It's never wasted money to replace them."
If you are concerned, one of the best ways to deal with lead in your water is to simply let the faucet run for a few minutes before using the water.
"Lead leaches into the pipes when water sits in it. If you run your water for two to three minutes, all the lead will go down the drain. The water coming into the house is all clean," Falkowski said.