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    Grand Rapids Water System lead levels remain low

    According to testing results certified by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), lead levels in drinking water provided by the Grand Rapids Water System remain low, matching levels in six of the last seven readings since the year 2000.

    According to Joellen Thompson, water system manager at the Grand Rapids Water System, customers should continue to be confident in the Grand Rapids Water System’s water quality and safety. The latest results of testing completed this past summer show lead levels are at 4 parts per billion (ppb) in the 90th percentile, well below the MDEQ’s Action Level of 15 parts per billion.

    “With the exception of readings that were slightly lower in 2013, our readings have remained at 4 ppb for the past 16 years. This long-term consistency is a tribute to the source quality of our water from Lake Michigan and our team of water treatment professionals who have added phosphates to our water since 1994 to reduce corrosion and coat any remaining lead pipes,” she said.

    Eric DeLong, Grand Rapids deputy city manager who oversees the City’s Public Services Group and its Water System agrees with Thompson’s assurance saying that, “The Grand Rapids Water System tests samples for a variety of water quality parameters on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis following strict local, state and federal standards.”

    “Our readings show lead test results at 4 parts per billion in the 90th percentile are holding at consistent levels, are among the lowest in Michigan, and tell a positive, reassuring story that should resonate with our customers,” he said.

    This past summer, residents in 52 homes scattered across the City participated to measure 2016 water lead level readings. This year’s testing included 19 new addresses to replace samples drawn from customer homes back in 2013 because occupants chose not to participate this year.

    The Grand Rapids Water System’s testing determines lead levels, as required by the Lead and Copper Rule requirements of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and State of Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act. To prepare for the home testing phase, Water System staff thoroughly inspected the plumbing and service lines entering each location. They also instructed residents in how to collect water samples.

    Testing protocol requires that samples be taken from the tap after at least six hours of stagnation. For 2016, the MDEQ eliminated its prior requirement to flush the faucet prior to the six-hour minimum stagnation period (a procedure referred to as “pre-flush”). Thompson said this change in sample protocol may explain the slight change in the 90th percentile over testing completed in 2013.

    According to the Grand Rapids Water System, the City has an estimated 19,000 lead service lines (most installed before 1930), out of 80,000 total water service lines. The historic, central City contains most of the lead service lines. However, as streets, sewers and watermains have been reconstructed over the past 20 years, the City has replaced several thousand lead service lines.

    Residents are encouraged to change out their private lead service lines at the same time that the City replaces its part of the lead service line. The City replaces its portion of the lead service lines during construction projects or whenever they leak, break or if requested by a property owner. Officials stress that the replacement of lead service lines is a routine practice to update aging infrastructure -- not as a matter of public health. In April, the City Commission adopted a new ordinance that sets a new lower annual finance rate (currently at 3.38 percent), payable over 10 years, for those wishing to finance their part of the lead water service replacement.

    Lead in the environment from old paint, dust and soil remains a concern that the City and its partners are working to address. On the state level, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss serves on Governor Snyder’s Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board. On the local level, Commissioners Senita Lenear and Jon O’Connor both serve on the Kent County Lead Poisoning Task Force.

    The Healthy Homes Coalition and the Kent County Health Department suggest that all children receiving Medicaid and children living in older housing be tested for lead poisoning at one and two years of age. For more information, please contact the Health Department at (616) 632-7063 or the Healthy Homes Coalition at (616) 241-3300.