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USS Lead Drinking Water Pilot Study


Background

In fall 2016, EPA conducted a pilot study at the USS Lead site to determine if soil cleanup excavation work could affect drinking water lead levels at residences where the excavation was taking place.

Like many older cities, East Chicago has a large percentage of service lines made of lead. Service lines carry water from the main in the street into the home. Lead can also be found in the interior house piping, lead solder, and brass or chrome-plated brass faucets. Street and construction work can sometimes disturb the service lines, and there is a chance that small particles of lead can break off and get into drinking water. It is not possible, however, for lead from the contaminated soil to get into your tap water.

EPA collected a sequence of drinking water samples from each residence before excavation began and another sequence of samples after the soil cleanup was completed. Residents were provided bottled water during the study period and were also provided drinking water filters and cartridges to use afterwards.

EPA continues to analyze data from the pilot study and has not yet come to any conclusions about the effect of excavation work on lead service lines. However, testing done as part of the pilot study uncovered an issue unrelated to the Superfund work: drinking water samples taken from a number of homes before EPA began any soil excavation work had lead levels above EPA’s 15 parts per billion action level.

There are two primary reasons for the high lead levels detected: the presence of lead in service lines and plumbing materials, and low orthophosphate levels in the drinking water system. After EPA notified the city of East Chicago and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management about the elevated lead levels, the city boosted the amount of orthophosphate added at the water treatment plant. This step should coat the interior surfaces of plumbing materials and decrease the amount of lead released into the drinking water. Replacing lead service lines is an effective but costly and time-intensive solution. Increasing the orthophosphate level to coat the pipes and fixtures is a more immediate solution.

The city of East Chicago has been in full compliance with the EPA’s “Lead and Copper Rule” since 1993, and the city currently meets all applicable federal and state rules on lead and copper in drinking water.

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What residents can do

Residents concerned about possible lead levels in their drinking water may want to install an NSF/ANSI-53 filter specifically certified for lead removal. EPA studies confirm that filters are effective in removing nearly all the lead from drinking water.

Only water from the cold-water tap should be used for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Run cold water until it becomes as cold as it can get. Only cold water should be run through filters. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead.

Unfiltered tap water can be used to wash dishes, clothes, and to clean homes. It can also be used for showers and children’s baths, even if the water contains lead over EPA’s action level. Human skin does not absorb lead in water.

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