St. Clair Shores Water Supervisor Russ Miller speaks to residents Marilyn Florek and Ericka Wheeler about their water concerns at the St. Clair Shores Lead Safe Open House Nov. 7.

St. Clair Shores Water Supervisor Russ Miller speaks to residents Marilyn Florek and Ericka Wheeler about their water concerns at the St. Clair Shores Lead Safe Open House Nov. 7.

Photo by Deb Jacques


St. Clair Shores identifies elevated lead levels at some homes

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 5, 2019

 Steve Schmidt, with the Macomb County Health Department, discusses water filtration with Malinda Madison.

Steve Schmidt, with the Macomb County Health Department, discusses water filtration with Malinda Madison.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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“We’re trying to be very proactive as it relates to this. Mayor and Council are very concerned. We are very confident that the issues that have been identified are very site specific (and) not related to the overall system.”

Matthew Coppler, City Manager

ST. CLAIR SHORES — The city of St. Clair Shores issued an advisory Nov. 4 to alert its 25,303 water customers that samples from locations with known lead service lines had lead levels that exceeded the action level of 15 ppb (parts per billion).

St. Clair Shores joins several other metro Detroit communities — including Birmingham, Dearborn Heights, Melvindale, Oak Park and Garden City — as municipalities that have discovered action levels of lead in their drinking water under new water testing guidelines set forth by the state.

St. Clair Shores City Manager Matthew Coppler explained that because of what happened with the city of Flint’s drinking water supply, the state “has been doing a lot more as it relates to looking at water systems and trying to identify those communities that have issues with lead lines.”

In 2018, the lead and copper rule of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act was changed to add new water sampling rules that could better detect possible lead in drinking water. The rules required communities with lead service lines to increase the number of sampling locations and to draw multiple samples from each location, a method that was expected to result in higher lead results because of the more stringent sampling procedures and analysis.

St. Clair Shores collected samples from 32 sites with known lead service lines in September and found that four of the targeted sites had results that exceeded the 15 ppb action level, bringing the lead 90th percentile for the city to 21 ppb. Because the new testing method showed that more than 10% of samples collected had elevated levels of lead, the city was required to notify the community and begin to take action to rectify the situation.

Coppler said that under the new law, communities — not homeowners — will be responsible for replacing the service line from the city’s main to the property.

“The state has said ... you’re operating the water system, (so) it’s your responsibility,” he said.

The water coming into St. Clair Shores from the Great Lakes Water Authority does not have any lead contamination, he said, so the only way lead is getting into the water is at specific sites that still have lead service lines.

According to the city’s records, about 2.5% of the city’s customers, or 656, may still have lead service lines. The remaining 97.5% of St. Clair Shores customers don’t have a problem, Coppler said.

The city has contacted the homeowners with elevated lead levels and provided them with their sample results. St. Clair Shores is also providing complimentary faucet filters or pitcher filters to any water customer that has been verified to have a lead service line in their home.

The state requires that, beginning in 2020, the city is to begin replacing the lead service lines at a rate of 7% per year, but since that could take 15-20 years, the mayor and the City Council will review proposals to expedite the replacement.

Mayor Kip Walby said that it’s important to city officials to be vigilant and take steps to reduce the risk of lead exposure. He said that city officials have been meeting with Hubbell, Roth and Clark, the city’s engineering firm, to put together a request for proposal to find a contractor to replace the lines.

Although it seems ambitious, he hopes the city will be able to rectify the situation in 2020.

“Our goal is to move quickly and get this done,” he said. “It’s always a shock, but the worst thing would be to not act prudently and swiftly to correct the problem.”

The work would be paid for out of the utility fund, Walby said, and St. Clair Shores is also working with state Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, to find grant money or low-interest loan opportunities to pay for the work.

The action level exceedance was found in water that had been sitting in lead material or a galvanized material service line pipe overnight.

The city recommends that residents with lead service lines run their water for at least five minutes to flush water out of the lead service line before using it for drinking or cooking, and that residents with lead service lines who have children under the age of 18 or pregnant women in their house use filters that are certified to reduce lead in their drinking water.

“The transfer of lead into the water is a contact issue. If you’re opening up the line and you’re drawing from our main instead of your service line, you’re getting a level that’s well below the action level,” Coppler explained.

Residents can go to scsmi.net and click on the alert for a link to a survey that will help them determine if their home has a lead service line or not. It will also help the city ascertain which of the more than 650 properties that it has on record as having lead service lines still do so.

“This will also help us put together how we will be replacing these leads over the next couple years,” Coppler said. “We’re actually asking people to give us a picture of where that water line comes into your house.”

Coppler said they have estimated that it will cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to replace each line, but the city hasn’t bid the work out yet.

He said the good news is that St. Clair Shores only has about 650 affected sites, compared with communities like Lincoln Park, where he was previously the city manager, that had an estimated 12,000 sites, or the city of Detroit, with about 125,000 sites.

“It’s a lot of money, $5 million or so, but we are required, being in this action level ... to replace starting next year, 7%,” he said. “Because council, obviously, is concerned with this, we’re putting together some different scenarios as to how this can be sped up so it doesn’t take 15 years to replace this.”

Coppler said the city is providing filters to residents where they know there is a lead service line.

“We are going to be sending out a letter to everyone on that list ... within the next week or so,” he said. “If we don’t hear back from them, we’re going to be going out and knocking on doors.

“We’re trying to be very proactive as it relates to this. Mayor and council are very concerned. We are very confident that the issues that have been identified are very site specific (and) not related to the overall system.”

For more information on how to obtain a filter or for health-related concerns, call the SCS Lead Safe Hotline at (586) 447-3305 or visit scsmi.net/892/SCS-Lead-Safe.


Take steps to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water:

• Replace faucets with those made in 2014 or later marked NSF 61/9.

• Run water for at least five minutes to flush water from the home and the lead service line if the residence has a lead service line.

• Use cold, filtered water or bottled water for cooking and preparing baby formula.

• Do not boil water to reduce lead as it will not remove the lead.

• Look for alternative drinking water sources or purchase a water filter.

• Have the water tested for lead.

• Clean and sanitize aerators monthly, as they can accumulate small particles of lead in their screens.

• Install a water filter that is certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for lead reduction.

Source: Macomb County Health Department

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