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What do Flint (Michigan) and Carbondale have in common?

Locations: News Published

Not their water quality

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Does Carbondale’s drinking water contain lead that has leached from the town’s water delivery system?

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The short answer is, not as far as local officials know.

Ever since the news broke that residents of the city of Flint, Michigan was suffering from lead poisoning in its municipal water system, towns all over the U.S. have been wondering if they have the same problem.

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And the question does not seem to be one that can easily be answered.

A Feb. 8 a New York Times article reported unsafe lead levels have recently turned up in Washington, D.C.; Durham and Greenville, N.C.; and Jackson, Miss, to name just a few.

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While lead water pipes were federally banned more than three decades ago, according to the article, there are millions of instances of lead pipes in the ground that predate the ban, most of them in the “service pipe” networks that carry water into homes or businesses.

A Feb. 4 story in the Washington Post reported that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has uncovered data indicating that more than 40 percent of the states that reported lead-test results in 2014 (a total of 27 states) “have higher rates of lead poisoning among children than Flint.”

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The Post article, while pointing out that leaded paint on the walls of millions of aging homes and apartment buildings is far more hazardous than lead pipes carrying drinking water, also noted that lead contamination from water pipes has been a problem “for decades.”

Well, here in Carbondale citizens can rest easy on that point, at least, as town officials say there are no lead pipes in the town’s water system, at least “none that we are aware of.”

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There are, however, some copper pipes, said Carbondale Utility Director Mark O’Meara, and he noted that copper poses some potential health problems, although “maybe not as dangerous” as lead pipes.

O’Meara said the town is required by a 1991 federal regulation, known as the “lead and copper rule,” to periodically test the water going into local homes to determine if lead is leaching into the flow.

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“I don’t think we’ve ever even come close to the threshold,” said O’Meara, who started working for Carbondale in 2007. He said he has gotten some calls about lead-piping in the water system and has explained that there is none that he knows of and that he feels there is no reason for concern in Carbondale.

But, he added, some older homes may have lead-based solder in the joints of their water pipes, and the lead could be leaching into the water.

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O’Meara told The Sopris Sun that since the 1960s, when Carbondale began its modern growth spurt, it laid down water lines made primarily of cast iron or “ductile iron,” as well as a material known as PureCore, which is a flexible, plastic-based pipe that is no longer permitted under Carbondale’s code.

As for the service lines carrying water into and throughout homes, he said, “All the lines that I have seen are either galvanized (iron) — and those are older lines — or copper. We have a lot of copper service lines.”

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Copper in drinking water reportedly has been tentatively linked with some adverse health effects, causing symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea, as well as liver damage and kidney disease, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) Web site (

But the MDH mainly warns that, if water in a home’s pipes has not been run for six hours or more, it should be allowed to run for 30-60 seconds before being consumed, because standing water tends to leach copper more readily than flowing water.

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The MDH site also contends that hot water tends to dissolve copper quicker than cold water does, so that water to be used for drinking or cooking “should not be drawn from the hot water tap,” nor should warm water from the tap be used for making baby formula.

Published in The Sopris Sun on April 21, 2016.