Lead and Arsenic

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By Kevin Brown

General Manager, Virgin Valley Water District

The issue of lead in the nation’s tap water has been quite a topic of discussion after the discovery of dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan and other parts of the United States. For more information regarding the lead issue across the United States, Google ‘lead in drinking water’ and your virtual cup will runneth over with news about what happened and why it happened. The purpose of this article is to not rehash that issue.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the water quality of the Virgin Valley Water District, primarily arsenic and lead. Before that, you should know that the District is required by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (EPA), and Clark County Health District to monitor our water for over 100 potential contaminants. The categories of contaminants we must monitor for include organic chemicals, inorganic chemicals, naturally occurring metals and salts, and microorganisms. Again, if you want more information, please Google ‘regulated drinking water contaminants.’

The District specifically monitors its water for two major contaminants – arsenic and lead. Arsenic is present in the underground soils where the District pulls its water from. All but one of our eight wells has arsenic concentrations that exceed the EPA’s maximum allowable level of 10µ/l. The District installed $28 million worth of treatment infrastructure in 2008 that reduces arsenic levels below the maximum amount allowed in water from seven wells. That solved the problem the District had with the only contaminant that poses a risk to customers.

The other contaminant, lead, does not occur naturally in water. Lead comes from pipe, fixtures (faucets), and other materials that have lead in them such as bronze and/or solder. The lead is leached out of the fixtures by the water and then consumed. Lead is also brought into the body by inhaling dust and some food sources. Lead is a primary health concern to infants and children as their nervous system and brain develop.

In 1986, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to prohibit the use of any pipe or plumbing fixture, any solder, or any flux, after June 1986, in the installation or repair of (i) any public water system; or (ii) any plumbing in a residential or non-residential facility providing water for human consumption, that is not lead free. Lead free was defined as not more than 0.2 percent lead in solders and flux, and not more than 8.0 percent weighted average lead in pipes and pipe fittings. This requirement is now 30 years old.

In 1986, there were very few homes in Mesquite and Bunkerville and those homes are confined to a small area. The District’s lead monitoring plan includes those older areas mainly because any home constructed after 1986 should have very little or no lead in the pipe or plumbing fixtures.

In 2014, the EPA changed the definition to a rather confusing one of “not more than 0.25 percent in the wetted surface material.” Newer areas of Mesquite and Bunkerville are constructed with “lead free” pipe and plumbing fixtures. The older areas of Mesquite and Bunkerville have historically not shown any lead leaching problems.

The District will continue to monitor all areas of Mesquite and Bunkerville to ensure public health is being protected. If you are concerned about your house lead levels, you can purchase a lead testing kit from a home improvement store or online to collect a sample and send it to a laboratory for testing. The kits cost approximately $10 to $20. Make sure you follow the instructions exactly to ensure accuracy of your sample. You may also run your faucet for a few minutes to flush out the line reducing any lead buildup that may occur during long periods of non-use. The lead action level that has been established by the EPA is 0.015mg/l.

The bottom line is that the District’s water quality is very safe to drink and the two major issues people talk about here, arsenic and lead, do not pose a health risk in Mesquite and Bunkerville.

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