The city of Spokane is accelerating plans to switch out lead lines in its water delivery system, following national attention over Flint, Michigan’s contaminated drinking water.
The 486 remaining lead lines will be replaced with copper lines over the next two to three years at a cost about $3 million, said Marlene Feist, a spokeswoman for the city’s utilities division. The Shadle area has many of the lead lines, which represent less than 1 percent of the city’s 75,000 service connections.
Spokane residents are at low risk for lead exposure in drinking water because of the properties of groundwater from the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, Feist said. Water from the aquifer isn’t acidic like the water in Flint, which corroded pipes and allowed lead to leach into drinking water supplies.
Water drawn from the aquifer is slightly alkaline, Feist said. It also has a mineral hardness that protects against corrosion.
“Even through the risk is minimal, there’s a high sensitivity to lead in drinking water,” Scott Simmons, Spokane’s public works and utilities director said Wednesday. “Continuing to eliminate those service lines is the right thing to do.”
Last year, Spokane’s utilities division tested water from the faucets of older homes that are served by lead lines, which connect homes and businesses to the city’s water mains. All of the properties tested met the federal drinking water standard for lead, which is 15 parts per billion, Feist said.
One of the homes had a lead reading of 13.5 parts per billion. City officials have already talked to that homeowner about having that the line replaced, she said.
Other Spokane homeowners with copper pipes and lead solder asked to have their water tested. But those samples haven’t recorded high lead levels, Feist said.
Lead was used for water lines during World War II, when other materials were scarce because of the war effort. Spokane had nearly 1,000 lead service lines at one time, but the city has a longstanding policy of replacing lead lines whenever they’re encountered during work on the system, Feist said.
The replacement work will begin immediately. Fourteen lead service connections are being switched out during the reconstruction of Rowan Avenue between Driscoll Boulevard and Monroe Street. Other homeowners with lead lines will get a letter from the city, explaining plans to replace the lines.
The city is re-prioritizing its capital expenditures to pay for the work, Feist said. City officials might also apply for grants to help with funding. There is no cost to homeowners.
The attention on Flint has cities nationwide looking into potential lead sources in their drinking water. The city of Coeur d’Alene checked its records going back to the early 1900s but hasn’t found any references to lead lines, said Terry Pickel, the city’s water superintendent.
Locally, older homes with lead-based paint are a greater concern for lead exposure than drinking water supplies, said Kim Papich, a spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District. Childhood lead exposure has been linked to lowered IQs and behavior problems.
“We’d love to see the conversation shift away from the drinking water risk – because it is so low here – to in-home exposures,” she said.
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