- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Federal data shows that Kentucky is maintaining safe levels of lead in drinking water as the crisis in Flint, Michigan spotlights concerns with public water systems around the country.

But state officials and some water service providers have sent out reassurances to customers and pledged to take further action.

The state’s Division of Water has formed a workgroup that it says will examine procedures and develop new safeguards against lead infiltration. Louisville’s water company sent out a flyer to customers assuring them its water is safe and set a goal to replace remaining lead service lines in the city by 2025. Shelbyville last year began using a new additive that is less corrosive, meaning less opportunity for lead to leach into drinking water pipes.

“Following the events at Flint and elsewhere, we determined to look at what we are doing at the Division of Water and at public water systems in Kentucky and whether our protocols and procedures would avert similar issues here and whether there are areas for improvement,” Pete Goodmann, director of Kentucky’s Division of Water, said when the work group was announced in late March. 

An Associated Press analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data found no water systems that serve populations in Kentucky subject to the federal lead rule to be over the lead standard in their most recent samplings.

But around the country, there were nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.7 million Americans that have exceeded the federal standard at least once between Jan. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2015. The AP analyzed 25 years of sampling data reported by roughly 75,000 drinking water systems that are subject to the lead rule, which calls for water systems to keep lead levels below 15 parts per billion.

Despite Kentucky’s good standing, some water systems had levels that approached the federal standard. Fourteen water suppliers, as large as Danville’s Water Works and as small as the Imperial Mobile home park in Versailles, had recent readings at or above 10 parts per billion. A total of 211 systems had some lead show up in their recent readings, but about half were at 3 parts per billion or lower. The state’s largest city, Louisville, had a recent reading of six parts per billion. Lexington recent sampling, completed in December, was zero.

Tom Dole, manager of Shelbyville’s Water and Sewer Commission, said when officials there see a reading near the federal limit, they typically visit the site and trouble-shoot the problems. The commission, which serves a population of nearly 24,000, recorded a 13 parts per billion lead reading in its most recent sampling period that ended in 2013.

“Some customers might have old galvanized piping in the house, we suggest getting rid of it and go with PVC pipe or something,” Dole said. “We try to educate, but usually it might be a faucet breaking down or something like that.”

Dole said last fall, the city switched to a new disinfectant at the treatment plant that is less corrosive.

“We’re running a lot higher pH than we used to, and our water is less corrosive now than it used to be - not as hard,” he said.

Louisville is spending $2.3 million this year to replace about 1,000 lead service lines, and officials are offering free lead test kits to concerned residents.

The state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet said in a release that 409 public water systems in Kentucky over the last four years have taken more than 10,000 water samples for lead at households and businesses. Three of the systems exceeded the 15 parts per billion mark, but action plans designed to reduce lead levels have returned the three sites to compliance, the state said in a release.

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