Royal Oak warns residents of ‘action level’ lead in water

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 5, 2019

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ROYAL OAK — Interim City Manager and City Attorney David Gillam said he does not want to scare people, but that they should take seriously the public advisory about lead levels in the city’s water issued Oct. 29.

Last year, the state modified the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act’s Lead and Copper Rule to make standards for testing more rigorous in order to better detect lead in drinking water.

In the last several weeks, testing in communities, including Oak Park, Hazel Park and Birmingham, revealed lead concentrations of more than 15 parts per billion — the concentration deemed “action level” by the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act — in locations with known lead service lines. 

Testing completed this summer in Royal Oak verified that out of 30 homes with known lead service lines, eight sites exceeded concentration levels of 15 ppb. The water was tested after sitting stagnant in the service lines for a minimum of six hours.

The 90th percentile value for samples taken during the latest monitoring period in Royal Oak was 23 ppb.

Royal Oak will now increase the frequency of monitoring, as well as the number of sites tested. The city speculates that approximately 6%, or 1,400 service lines, of the city’s 23,741 total service connections were constructed with lead or materials containing lead.

“The condition of the water hasn’t changed from before the testing. The source of the water hasn’t changed at all,” Gillam said. “The water that runs through our mains does not have lead. It becomes a problem when the water gets into the supply lines between our mains and our residents’ homes and the water sits there for a period of time.”

Lead can enter drinking water when it comes into contact with older pipes, solder, interior plumbing, and older fittings and fixtures containing lead, especially when water remains still for extended periods. 

Gillam said the city has never had a problem since it began testing supply lines known to contain lead in 1992, as mandated by the MSDWA. During the Monday, Oct. 28, City Commission meeting, Gillam said that the state alerted the city of the “action level” concentrations of lead late the week before.

On Oct. 29, the city launched a series of tools aimed at educating the public about lead and lead testing, which can be found at www.romi.gov/leadtesting. It also trained a five-person team of city employees to operate a dedicated hotline for lead questions at (248) 246-3999.

Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water and other sources. 

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, lead is most damaging to children age 6 and younger and pregnant women,” Leigh-Anne Stafford, health officer for Oakland County, said in a prepared statement.


Reducing exposure to lead

In the public advisory for drinking water customers in Royal Oak, the city listed a number of recommended actions for all residents to take to reduce exposure to lead.

Run your water before consuming

The more time water has been sitting in your home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. Therefore, if your drinking water has not been used for several hours, run the water before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes stagnant water from the pipes. Additional flushing may be required for homes that have been vacant or have a longer service line; however, the following provides a good guideline.

• If you do not have a lead service line, run cold water for 30 seconds to two minutes, or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature.

• If you do have a lead service line, run cold water for at least five minutes to flush water from the plumbing of your home and the lead service line.

Consider using a filter to reduce lead in drinking water

The Michigan Department of Health recommends that any household with a child or a pregnant woman use cold water and a certified lead filter to remove lead from their drinking water, especially when preparing baby formula.

Look for filters that are tested and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for lead reduction. Be sure to maintain and replace the filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to protect water quality.

Filters cost about $35, replacement cartridges cost about $15, and each has an approximately nine-month lifespan, according to the city.

Other advice

The advisory says not to use hot water for drinking, cooking or preparing baby formula, and it notes that boiling will not reduce the amount of lead in water. Residents also should clean their faucet aerators to remove trapped debris.

Check whether your home has a lead service line

If you are unsure whether your home has a lead service line, visit www.romi.gov/leadtesting to take a test with photos to determine the service line material.

An online feature is available in which residents can email a photo of their water meter and some of the pipe supply line on each side of the meter to the Royal Oak Department of Public Service, and the DPS will identify if it contains lead.

Residents also can drop off a photo at the DPS building, 1600 N. Campbell Road, just south of 12 Mile Road.

Have your water tested for lead

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy publishes a list of state laboratories that are certified for lead testing at michigan.gov/mileadsafe. The Oakland County Health Division also offers testing kits. For more information, contact the Oakland County Health Division at (248) 858-1280.


Next steps

“This is something that we’re going to be talking about at this table for years and years and years,” Gillam said. “The legislation is clear that it’s our obligation to replace the lines.”

He said a number of communities have joined together and challenged the new regulation on various grounds, the biggest being that the state is requiring municipalities to replace the service lines without providing funding to do so.

“That the standards have changed is a good thing, because that allows us as homeowners and a community to be much more aggressive and proactive in getting rid of those lead service lines or applying filters before it becomes a serious health hazard,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said. “Ultimately, what has to happen is those lead services lines have to come out.”

The city has slowly been building a database to chart what materials service lines are made of when discovered during city projects, but officials hope to dramatically increase the database with reports from residents.

As of press time, more than 900 residents had performed the test to find out what material their water services lines are made of and reported their results to the DPS. The website had more than 10,000 hits, and the hotline received more than 300 calls.

“This is going to be expensive. And it’s something we are going to have to do,” Oakland County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak, said in a prepared statement. “Now is the time for bold leadership. Protecting our drinking water is a public health priority, and we will work with our local communities, families and residents to solve this challenge together.”

For health-related questions, call the Oakland County Health Division’s nurse on call at (800) 848-5533 or email noc@oakgov.com.

For more information about the new regulations and lead safety, visit www.michigan.gov/MILeadSafe.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.

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