Some buildings and homes in Frisco may be operating with heightened levels of lead in their water supply, according to recent tests by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.
The town of Frisco announced on Wednesday that six homes and buildings out of 40 sampled during recent lead and copper testing by the town and the state were found to have lead levels in excess of the maximum allowable limit of 15 parts per billion.
“We are responding to this very seriously,” said Ryan Thompson, the town’s water foreman. “Lead exposure should never be minimized, and consumer confidence is everything to us. So we are trying to be as responsible and transparent as we can. But we also understand the context of what this is and how important it is for us to understand these high level locations and what is influencing them.”
Copper and lead testing in water samples is mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency twice a year and enforced by the state’s public health department. In the past, the town was only required to test 10 homes and buildings every three years. But due to new regulations that kicked in last year, Frisco now tests at least 40 buildings twice a year. Because lead solder was used in household plumbing until 1987, regulations require that testing sites be homes and buildings constructed between 1982 and 1988.
Thompson said a few homeowners were notified of high lead levels in the first half of 2018, though the aggregate of the 40 homes tested wasn’t in excess of the maximum allowable limit. The second testing period found that six of the testing sites had elevated lead levels. The town tested its four water sources in January and found that three had lead content below detectable levels. The fourth tested at one part per billion, well within the allowable limits. This means that the elevated lead levels aren’t coming from Frisco’s water at the source, but likely from lead leaching into water from plumbing systems inside the testing sites instead.
“I have confidence in Frisco’s water, and this testing has shown me that this confidence is justified,” said Jeff Goble, Frisco’s public works director and water superintendent, in a statement. “The changes to the lead and copper testing schedule and sampling pool is mandated nationally and is certainly justifiable, as it is in response to situations in communities where lead levels were alarmingly high, even at the water source, and were not discovered until damage had been done.
“Frisco is fortunate to have high quality water sources that do not have elevated lead levels, but testing for lead and copper in drinking water is really unique because it is typically done by the homeowner, and the results are impacted by their adherence to the sampling guidelines and the condition of the home’s plumbing. There were 34 homes that were below 15 (parts per billion), so now we need to work to understand what is impacting lead levels in those other six homes.”
While the town doesn’t have any concrete answer for the heightened levels of lead in certain buildings, there are a few possible explanations. Thompson said that one area of concern is second homes, where water sometimes sits idle for weeks or months inside plumbing, accelerating the leaching process. The town is looking at the testing sites to determine frequency of use, which homes are occupied full time and if second homes are tilting the results of the samples.
The town is currently testing its source water to determine if it has any “aggressive” or corrosive properties that could be degrading the plumbing inside homes and buildings. Thompson said that the town also replaced a couple of water meters in testing sites where homeowners had older brass water meters to see if it made an impact in reducing lead levels.
Additionally, the town is currently in the process of retesting the 40 homes and buildings to determine if there was possibly a sampling error or something else that could be influencing the higher test results. Thompson said that 21 of the 40 new samples have already been collected.
As an extra precaution the town offered to test the drinking water at Summit Middle School, Frisco Elementary, The Peak School, Summit County Preschool and two registered in-home daycare facilities in the town. All but one in-home daycare provided samples, and the town is expecting the results in the coming days.
“We wanted to go above and beyond what was required to understand even more of the picture, so we decided to test in local schools and daycares,” said Goble. “It was the right thing to do. That is what transparent and principled water providers should do, and we are committed to always taking that approach so our customers know that we have confidence in the water we provide the community.”
High levels of lead in drinking water can cause a number of potential health effects, especially with ongoing exposure. Children and expecting mothers are the most vulnerable to the effects, which can include delays in children’s physical or mental development, decreased IQ in children, kidney problems, high blood pressure in adults and lower birth weight in infants.
To reduce lead exposure in water, Thompson recommended running water from the faucet to flush the lead out. Run the water from the tap until there is a noticeable drop in temperature, signifying that you’re pulling in new water in lieu of water that’s been sitting in the household plumbing. Cold water should only be used for drinking, cooking and preparing baby formula. Boiling water will not remove lead.
Additionally, faucet strainers and aerators should be periodically removed and cleaned. Keep your water running during the cleaning to remove debris from the faucet. Concerned individuals can also test their home’s water for lead using a number of certified laboratories that can be found at Colorado.gov/cdphe/dwlabs.