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What to know: Denton starts inspecting 14,000 water lines for lead, copper contamination

Denton will begin inspecting water lines throughout the city to test for lead and copper contamination next week. The inspections are mandated by the EPA to comply with guidelines that protect residents from risks of lead exposure.
Deborah Cannon
KUT News
Denton will begin inspecting water lines throughout the city to test for lead and copper contamination next week. The inspections are mandated by the EPA to comply with guidelines that protect residents from risks of lead exposure.

Starting Monday, Denton water utilities field crews will be scouring the city to inspect water lines to figure out how many may be affected by copper or lead contamination.

The city is inspecting about 14,000 residential and commercial water lines currently categorized as “unknowns” because officials don’t know what type of material was used for the pipe, said Stephen Gay, Denton’s water utilities director.

Gay said that homes constructed before 1988 used a lead-based pipe for residential water lines as opposed to PVC used today.

“The water is safe,” Gay said. “We have been testing for lead since the early 2000s as part of the Safe Drinking Water [Act] and have never had levels. We maintain pH distribution levels.”

The inspection is fulfilling requirements mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2021 revised lead and copper rule that seeks to protect the community from the risks of lead exposure, which the EPA reports enters drinking water primarily through plumbing materials.

Exposure can lead to health problems such as stomach distress and brain damage and increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and nervous system problems, according to the EPA.

In a report Friday, city staff said that having a water-service line that contains lead “doesn’t mean that you have elevated levels of lead in your water.”

The field crews will be following several steps to inspect the water lines, according to the Friday report:

  • Hand-digging small holes around the meter to view and identify the material type on both the utility’s and the public’s side of the meter.
  • Viewing and testing service-line materials to update the city’s inventory.
  • Restoring any vegetation removed during the investigation.

Staff said the work should not interrupt water service and asks customers to follow these actions to help the process go more smoothly:

  • Keep all dogs and animals inside when field crews are on site.
  • Remove any obstructions to the meter or service lines.
  • Allow uniformed field crew members with proper IDs to access your property when necessary.

City spokesperson Dustin Sternbeck said that field crews have from early May until October to finish the inspection and send the results to the EPA.

If lead and copper concentrations exceed EPA requirements in more than 10% of customers’ taps sampled, the water system must undertake additional actions to control corrosion and inform the public about steps people should take to protect their health, according to the EPA’s treatment technique.

Corrosion control requires replacing lead service lines under the current rule at 3% each year, Gay said. But if the EPA publishes another revision to the rules in September, the city will have 10 years to replace contaminated lines.

For the EPA to accept that the line has been replaced, Gay said, the line has to be replaced from the main on the city’s side all the way to the home on the private side, which means the property owner will be financially responsible for some of the costs.

Gay said the city has been discussing programs — such as vouchers — that would help customers replace their service lines, though the City Council would have to review and approve them.

“We’re very sensitive to this issue,” Gay said.

The city also took some steps to inform the public in last week’s staff report. To reduce exposure if you do have lead in your service line, staff recommends following these steps:

  • Use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula, etc., and keep in mind that boiling water does not remove lead.
  • Regularly clean your faucet’s screen.
  • Consider using a water filter certified to remove lead and keep track of when it is time to replace the filter.
  • Before drinking water, flush your pipes by running your tap, taking a shower, doing laundry or a load of dishes.

The city staff report states: “There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. Exposure to lead in drinking water can cause health effects in all age groups, especially pregnant people, infants (both formula-fed and breastfed) and young children. Some of the health effects to infants and children include decreases in IQ and attention span.

“Lead exposure can also result in new or worsened learning and behavior problems. The children of persons who are exposed to lead before or during pregnancy may be at increased risk of harmful health effects.”