This is the first in a series of articles discussing issues relating to the quality of water provided by OCWA—Central New York’s Water Authority.  Our first article focuses on lead in drinking water.

Background

If present, elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children.  While lead is rarely present in water coming from a treatment plant, it can enter tap water through corrosion of some plumbing materials (including customer water service lines and internal plumbing).  In recent years, several aggressive steps have been taken to reduce the occurrence of lead in drinking water.

In 1986, Congress amended the national Safe Drinking Water Act to prohibit the use of pipe, solder or flux containing high lead levels.  The Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 required schools and day-care centers to repair or remove water coolers with lead-lined tanks.  In addition, New York State law and regulations require all public school districts to test drinking water for lead contamination and to take responsive actions to remove sources of lead.

OCWA Corrosion Control Efforts

OCWA takes multiple steps to make sure the water you drink is safe from a variety of potential contaminants, including lead. To help limit pipe corrosion and keep lead and copper out of our water, OCWA adds orthophosphate to its Otisco Lake treatment process and sodium hydroxide to its Lake Ontario treatment process. Orthophosphate works by adding a protective coating layer to the inside of pipes and plumbing, while sodium hydroxide works by reducing the acidity of the water.  Taken together, these additives help protect you and your family if the pipes and plumbing in your home, school, office or place of worship are made from lead or lead-containing materials.

Our test results indicate that orthophosphate and sodium hydroxide are very successful at reducing lead and copper from leaching into the water.  Even in houses that have lead plumbing, sample results are very low (zero or below detection levels).  The amount of chemicals added to water for your protection is very small – for example, we add about .8 mg of orthophosphate per liter of water.  By comparison, a 12 oz. can of soda contains over 1,000 times that amount.

To ensure that our corrosion control methods continue to be optimized, OCWA periodically performs various forms of analysis related to our two major sources of water supply.  We recently conducted an internal analysis of the corrosion control processes associated with our Otisco Lake supply, and we are currently undertaking a comprehensive external study to evaluate the effectiveness of corrosion control processes at our Lake Ontario Water Treatment Plant as part of major capital improvement project.

Routine Lead Testing

The federal Lead and Copper Rule requires public water systems such as OCWA to routinely test tap water from sites likely to have plumbing containing lead.  If more than 10 percent of tap water tested exceeds the lead action level of 15 parts per billion, then a public water system is required to notify residents and take steps to reduce lead levels in the public drinking supply.  Importantly, OCWA has never been required to take such actions.  Impending revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule are expected to include more stringent sampling and testing protocols.

While supplies last, New York State is offering a free lead test to check your household drinking water.  For more information, visit https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/water/drinking/lead/free_lead_testing_pilot_program.htm.

OCWA Lead Identification Initiative

Over the past several years, OCWA has continued a proactive program to identify the type of material used to construct all customer water service lines throughout our five-county water system.  All residential water customers were sent a pamphlet detailing how to conduct a brief self-test of your water service line to determine its construction.  Any customer with a water service line made of lead is being offered a free, one-time test from OCWA to determine whether lead exists in your drinking water.  If you are interested in receiving a Check Your Pipes pamphlet explaining how to conduct a lead self-test, please call 315-455-7061 extension 3335.

Steps Customers Can Take to Reduce Lead in Your Drinking Water

While OCWA is taking multiple steps to protect our customers from lead in drinking water, there are also things that customers can do to reduce lead in your drinking water:

  • Run water from a tap that hasn’t been used in several hours until the water is cold before using it for drinking or cooking.
  • Use only cold tap water for cooking, drinking or making a baby’s formula; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Avoid cooking with or drinking hot tap water; DO NOT USE HOT WATER FROM A FAUCET TO MAKE BABY FORMULA.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
  • Replace plumbing if it is found to contain lead with lead content certified products.