The only way to know whether you have a problem is to test your water for lead, stresses Dr. Richard Maas, co-director of UNCA’s Environmental Quality Institute — “regardless of whether you have children or not, regardless of the age of your building.”
Since 1987, notes Maas, the EQI has offered a two-sample testing kit that enables residents to test their own drinking water (see below).
About 80 percent of the families in Mountain Xpress’ readership area who do the test will find that they don’t have a lead problem.
Of the 20 percent of families who do, “Ninety percent of those will find that just by running the [water] for one minute, they can bring the levels down low enough to not be a problem,” says Maas. “In other words, you can solve it just by flushing the line.”
The remaining 10 percent of families, however, “will find that even their purged line sample is too high,” he notes. “Those people are going to need a filter or bottled water.”
The other thing concerned citizens can do is contact their local water department, says Maas. “Ask them to follow the example of all these other progressive towns by switching to no-lead water-service parts and meters.”
Although these no-lead parts cost about 25 percent more than their traditional leaded-brass counterparts, “the cost … is a tiny fraction of the total cost of supplying water,” he notes.
Maas estimates that if a town the size of Asheville switches to no-lead water-service parts for all future installations and in replacing older parts as they age out, “the cost … only comes out to about 4 cents per month per household.”
“When you look at it that way, it’s really not very much,” he observes. “I’m sure all the customers would agree, if they had a vote in it, [that] for 4 cents a month they’d rather have no lead in their water.”
The EQI’s two-sample test kits ($17 apiece) are available online (www.leadtesting.org) or by sending a check to: Clean Water Lead Testing, UNC-Asheville, CPO 2331, Asheville, NC, 28804. The kit comes with complete instructions and a return mailer for sending in your water samples. The EQI will run the samples and send a letter explaining the results and what action, if any, is needed.
— Lisa Watters