Water quality challenges are everywhere
It’s not just Flint… Even here in the West
When the first reports of the terrible water quality and lead in the water in Flint, Mich., hit the media, people were shocked. How could this happen in America? Well, the point of this article isn’t to litigate that question, the point of this article is to call to plumbers’ attention water quality issues, including unacceptable levels of lead in potable water supplies, are here in the West, too.
As one example, a recent study by Reuters found some residents of Oakland’s Fruitvale area are being exposed to intolerable lead levels, with about 7.5% of the 500 children tested having levels of lead in their blood far higher than the national average of 2.5% established by the Centers for Disease Control. There are thousands of systems in the West and across the country that currently have “excessive” lead levels.
The Environmental Protection Agency has ruled utilities must ensure water from at least 90% of customers’ taps in sampled homes doesn’t exceed 15 parts per billion of lead. This 15 ppb is called the “action level,” meaning a contaminant concentration more than that will trigger treatment of the problem. Because of the serious health risks presented by lead, the EPA has also set a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal of zero for the metal. The MCLG is the level of contaminant in drinking water which there is no known or expected risk to health. In other words, according to the EPA, no level of lead in water is “safe.”
Lead isn’t a good thing for living things to be ingesting. You can shower in affected water because it’s not absorbed through our skin, but drinking it isn’t a good idea at all. It can lead to numerous health problems like central nervous system damage, wrecking your kidneys, affecting your brain and make no mistake – ingest too much lead for too long and you’re simply done for. Particularly at risk are pregnant women, fetuses and little kids.
A popular list online was published by NBC News, which lists 10 U.S. cities with “the worst’ drinking water. Most locales feature pollutants over and above lead, including uranium, arsenic, tetrachloroethylene and others. Seven of the 10 locations are from the West: San Diego; North Las Vegas; Houston; Reno; Riverside County, Calif.; Las Vegas; and, Riverside, Calif.
Just to zero in on lead, how did it get there? Structures built before 1986 more than likely contain lead pipes, fixtures, fittings and solder. Lead can get into potable water when pipes containing lead corrode. Also a factor were the older non- “lead-free” solders, fittings and fixtures. Also factors in the amount of lead an older system can put into potable water are the amount of corrosion present, the amount of lead, the temperature of the water in the pipes and how long the water stands in the pipes, among other things.
One of the first things a tech can do to make sure he or she is providing their customers good information is to check with the local water utility. EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual water quality report called a Consumer Confidence Report for their customers by July 1 of each year.
The next step is to make sure your truck is stocked with at least a few water test kits. Many companies offer inexpensive field test kits that check for a variety of contaminants. These can provide a broad stroke look at what’s in a customers’ water. However, if you’re really into details, a sample of the liquid in question can be sent off to one of many certified labs whose jobs it is to check for contaminants. Usually local water utilities will have a list of these labs available just for the asking.
Once you’ve determined your customer has a water problem, discuss with them the various options available. Perhaps a simple point-of-use filter of the type typically sold in drug stores and the like is all they’ll need and maybe they can handle installation as a do-it-yourself project. In other words, don’t oversell – the customer who can get by with a drugstore faucet filter who buys an expensive whole-house solution isn’t going to be a repeat customer.
For more extreme cases of compromised potable water, recommend a system that will get the job done. There are several companies in the industry that offer various whole-house filtration systems as well as point of use filtration. Avail yourself of the manufacturers’ knowledge and be prepared to rake in the dough for your company while protecting your customers’ health.