News Feature | June 17, 2016

Lead Testing In Major U.S. Cities May Aim To Conceal Contamination

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

At least 33 U.S. cities have used lead-testing methods that may conceal the true level of contamination, The Guardian claims in a new investigative report.

“Of these cities, 21 used the same water testing methods that prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint over their role in one of the worst public health disasters in U.S. history,” the report said.

Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee were among the cities that used these methods, according to the investigation, which analyzed thousands of documents detailing water testing practices in major cities.

Key findings, per the report:

  • Two states — Michigan and New Hampshire — advised water departments to give themselves extra time to complete tests so that if lead contamination exceeded federal limits, officials could re-sample and remove results with high lead levels.
  • Some cities denied knowledge of the locations of lead pipes, failed to sample the required number of homes with lead plumbing or refused to release lead pipe maps, claiming it was a security risk.

The Guardian investigation pointed to a practice known as “pre-flushing” as part of the problem, among other methods.

“Testing methods that can avoid detecting lead include asking testers to run faucets before the test period, known as ‘pre-flushing;’ to remove faucet filters called ‘aerators;’ and to slowly fill sample bottles,” the report said.

The federal government updated its guidance on pre-flushing this year.

“Since the Lead and Copper Rule did not prohibit pre-stagnation flushing, many states historically allowed this practice as a means to help ensure that a sample was being collected from a representative tap, in common use. That practice was not revised by the U.S. EPA until the February 2016 guidance was issued,” Moultrie News explained.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech scientist who helped uncover the Flint, MI, crisis, called water testing in some major cities “an outrage,” according to The Guardian.

“They make lead in water low when collecting samples for EPA compliance, even as it poisons kids who drink the water,” he said. “Clearly, the cheating and lax enforcement are needlessly harming children all over the United States. If they cannot be trusted to protect little kids from lead in drinking water, what on Earth can they be trusted with? Who amongst us is safe?”

To read more about lead testing visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Analysis Solutions Center.