Drinking water from 12 Alabama water systems has contained more lead than allowed by federal rules at various times since 2010, according to officials with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Tests on drinking water have shown lead levels of up to 72 parts per billion, more than four times the 15 ppb federal limit. But no water system is currently in violation of federal rules for lead, said Lynn Battle, chief of external affairs for ADEM.
A study released earlier this week showed 5,300 water systems across the country were in violation of the federal rules for lead and copper in 2015. The study, conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was spurred by the discovery of widespread lead contamination of the drinking water in Flint, Michigan.
Consumption of lead even at low levels is harmful because it accumulates in the body over time, according to the EPA. Lead can damage the heart and kidneys in adults, and in children it can damage the nervous system and lead to learning difficulties, hyperactivity, anemia and hearing problems, among other things.
Battle said that, in Alabama, environmental officials work with systems to bring their water into compliance after a bad reading. Dauphin Island Water and Sewer Authority was the only repeat offender since 2010, Battle said, showing lead levels of 19 ppb and 20 ppb. But the authority lowered lead levels to within federal limits after working with ADEM officials, she said.
Other systems with drinking water that exceeded the federal limits during that time period were:
- Belforest Water System – 24 ppb
- Canoe Water Works – 23 ppb
- Escambia Community Utilities – 15.5 ppb
- Excel Water System – 23 ppb
- Grove Hill Water Works – 23 ppb
- Lake Mitchell Water, Inc. – 18.3 ppb
- Pollard Water System – 21 ppb
- Tate and Lyle sucralose plant in McIntosh – 72 ppb
- Union Springs Utility Board – 27.3 ppb
- Wayne Farms LLC – 16 ppb
- Woodland Water Board – 25 ppb
In Alabama, water systems test their own drinking water at homes and other distribution points, Battle said. The systems and the labs that analyze the water report the results to ADEM, she said.
Systems in which 10 percent or more of the samples have elevated lead levels are considered in violation of the federal rules, according to ADEM officials.
This is the second time this year that drinking water contamination has been an issue in Alabama. Residents served by North Alabama’s West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority were advised not to drink the water because it had levels of PFOS and PFOA contaminants considered unsafe after the EPA tightened restrictions on the chemicals. After the authority began buying water from another system and mixing it with its own, the chemicals were reduced to undetectable levels, and customers were given the go-ahead to drink the water in late June.
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