- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - About 18 private and government water systems in mostly small towns or rural areas in Kansas have had reported lead levels in their water samples exceeding federal limits, according to Environmental Protection Agency records examined by The Associated Press.

Those agencies are among the nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.7 million Americans that have violated the federal lead standard at least once between Jan. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2015, and are listed on the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System.

In Valley Center, a community of 5,654 people just north of Wichita, water testing in August showed three samples with lead exceeding the 15 parts per billion federal threshold, triggering notifications to customers. The samples ranged from a low of 19 parts per billion to 43 parts per billion, said Brent Holper, the city’s public works director.

“We are trying to identify our problem areas,” Holper said, adding the city is doing additional testing in conjunction with state regulators to find out if there is a deeper problem. The city still has some lead “goosenecks,” the apparatus that connects the main lines to service lines, but also quite a few older homes, he said. Some of the high lead levels were found in homes that were not connected to those lead goosenecks, he said.

Several water system operators in Kansas contacted by AP say the contamination showing up in their test samples is coming from lead pipes or other lead sources in older homes, not from their own distribution systems which use plastic pipes.

“It’s a bit of a sore subject with me,” said Frank Parker, manager of the Sedgwick County Rural Water System No. 3 near Mulvane, which serves a rural population of about 5,290 people.

On Feb. 26, the system sent out a letter to customers informing them that of the 20 samples collected for testing last summer, three exceeded the acceptable level for lead of 15 parts per billion. A few days after that letter was mailed, the results from another round of testing showed no violations of lead levels, Parker said.

But due to state and federal regulations, he will now have to take 80 samples this year alone to monitor the situation, he said.

“It is really not the water providers,” Parker said. “It’s what happens when it gets inside the home.”

Jim Lloyd, who owns a small water system serving 176 people in Great Bend, blamed a lead-tainted sample taken a few months ago from a water hydrant outside a home that he speculates may have had a lead washer in it. When he resampled it inside the home, the result came back at a low 1.1 parts per billion, he said.

Other systems’ officials were baffled as to why they showed up on the EPA list.

In South Hutchinson, City Administrator Matt Stiles said that they have not had any high lead samples, notwithstanding the fact the city showed up on the EPA’s list when one sample tested of 20.7 parts per billion. Wheatland High School in the northwest Kansas town of Grainfield also disputed EPA listing, blaming its high sample on a miscalculation by state regulators.

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