News Feature | July 26, 2017

Inspector General Skewers Water Utility On Lead Disclosure

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

bourbon st reg new.jpg

A powerful figure in the New Orleans government is going after the city water utility for allegedly failing to warn residents about the potential threat of lead in their drinking water.

“The New Orleans inspector general says the city hasn't adequately warned residents that ongoing street repairs and water system improvements could result in temporarily high lead levels in some buildings' tap water,” CBS News reported.

“Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux's latest report says some old city water lines — and lines on private properties— are made of lead, which can affect the brain and nervous system when ingested. Chemicals added to the water form a protective coating in those pipes. But Quatrevaux cites experts who say disturbance of the aging lines can jar some of the coating loose and allow lead to contaminate the water,” the report said.

Citing a bevy of water infrastructure projects in the works, Quatrevaux said residents may be exposed to a spike in lead levels. He said residents have not been adequately warned.

“In a report released [last week], the IG said the city and Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) have not alerted residents about the danger or provided them with information on how to reduce the risk of increased lead levels that might happen as some lead service lines are partially replaced or as nearby work could affect them, sending some lead particles into interior pipes,” WWL reported.

The 69-page report originated with an inspection of the S&WB’s water quality testing practices. The inspection made the Inspector General’s office “aware of an imminent risk to public health,” the report said. The report recommended that city water officials take the following actions:

  • Alert residents about the significant public health risks associated with partial lead service line (LSL) replacement and other infrastructure work that may disturb LSLs.  
  • Notify residents in advance of partial LSL replacement or activities that may disturb LSLs.  
  • Provide residents with detailed instructions on how to flush exterior service and interior plumbing lines after a partial LSL replacement or LSL disturbance.
  • Distribute water filter kits and refills to residents who may be — or may have been —recently exposed to elevated lead levels as a result of partial LSL replacement or LSL disturbance.  
  • Perform water quality testing at locations affected by partial LSL replacements or LSL disturbances until there is sufficient evidence that temporary lead increases have subsided.

New Orleans water officials stressed that they are in compliance with water laws and regulations. They said that city water is safe.

"There's no amount of education in this issue that's enough, and we're going to continue to do everything we can to keep the community informed," S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant told CBS affiliate WWL, "but I can tell you as we sit here today the water is safe, the water is in compliance with state and federal law."

Image credit: "Bourbon Street Between Bienville and Conti, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana 3," ken lund © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/