Veolia, which provides water to more than 100,000 residents in northern New Castle County, this month started a campaign to locate lead service lines.
The campaign asks customers to volunteer five to 10 minutes of their time to fill out a survey and take and attach a photo of their service line near the meter. The service line is the pipe that runs from the main in the street to individual homes and other buildings.
Veolia’s campaign involved texts and emails to customers, and on a few threads on nextdoor.com, the reaction was most negative: It’s phishing. It’s their job. It’s confusing.
But it’s real, and it’s really serious.
The campaign also extends to Veolia’s adjacent territory in Bethel Township, Pennsylvania and other services areas in surrounding states, a spokesman said.
Lead exposure is a health issue, especially for children. That’s why the federal government in 1986 banned lead pipes, fixtures and solder and in 2017 revised the rules on lead and copper.
Lead paint was banned in 1978 for the same reason, and lead ink was banned in 1985 as well in children’s books.
Current government regulations on drinking water set an action level of 15 parts per billion for lead and 1.3 parts per million for copper.
Testing from the Delaware 2020 routine monitoring shows an average state lead level at 1.6 ppb and an average state copper level at 0.145 ppm. Testing from the Bethel 2019 routine monitoring shows an average lead level at 1 ppb and an average copper level at 0.137 ppm.
The survey offers customers three choices for the material used in their lead service line: copper (not magnetic, shines like a penny when scratched), plastic (man colors, doesn’t change color when scratched) and galvanized (gray or silver and magnetic). It also offers customers the chance to report that they can’t easily access the meter or the pipe where water enters the house.
A map of Veolia’s service area has circles for each customer, colored orange for lead, green for nonlead and blue for unknown. The circles are halved, with Veolia on the left, customer on the right. The most prominent circles on the map are both sides unknown and Veolia’s side nonlead and the customer unknown.
To keep levels low, Veolia regularly monitors the water, treats it and, as necessary, replaces lead service lines.
“Lead isn’t present in the water at the treatment plant or in the water mains,” Veolia’s overview of the program said. “However, a small percentage of service lines are made of lead.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 10% to 20% of human exposure to lead may come from drinking water. “Where present, lead service lines are typically the most significant source of lead in the water,” Veolia added.
Delaware’s Office of Drinking Water maintains a page on lead and copper in water.
How to reduce your lead exposure
The simplest to reduce your lead exposure is letting the cold water run for a bit (generally, less than a gallon is lost each time, Veolia said) when it hasn’t been used for six hours, because lead can build up over time. Other tips from Veolia:
• Test your water. “Testing is essential because you cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water,” Veolia said. Delaware has certified 18 testing labs.
• Use cold, flushed water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
• Remove lead with water softeners and reverse osmosis units. But know they can also make the water more corrosive to lead solder and plumbing by removing minerals.
• Regularly remove and clean aerators and screens on plumbing fixtures.
• Replace plumbing fixtures and service lines containing lead. Surprisingly, “lead-free” plumbing fixtures sold before 2011 could have up to 8% lead. They can still have 0.25% lead. Veolia wants to know if customers plan to replace their lead service line.
• Have an electrician check your wiring. Grounding wires attached to pipes can increase corrosion.
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