Six of 30 water quality samples tested by Stoughton Utilities in late June exceeded the state Department of Natural Resources standard for lead.
Lead is a naturally occurring metal that could be toxic to humans and animals if ingested.
Though there is no level of lead considered safe by federal guidelines, SU director Jill Weiss told the Hub lead does not naturally occur in the city’s water and some of the city’s remaining lead water lines are likely the cause.
Stoughton Utilities had not yet received its fail letter from the DNR when Weiss shared the information with the Hub in late July. The DNR requires annual water quality reports that test copper and lead levels in pre-approved locations identified as potential areas of concern, Weiss told the Hub.
She said that of the 4,709 service lines that supply water to individual properties, around 750 are at least partially made of lead. The others are made of copper.
“We have no reason to believe at this time that these levels are indicative of the water quality at the other lead service locations, or at the 85% of locations not served by lead service lines,” a Stoughton Utilities letter to customers said. “However, we will be proactive in our response to this situation.”
Weiss said that the first step to addressing the immediate exceedance is informing people who might have lead lines going to their homes, and the letter is part of that.
“We want to reach out and make sure everyone is very much aware, work with customers to make sure they have all of the information correctly and so one of the things we’re working on right now is public outreach,” she said.
That process started with Stoughton schools, daycares, clinics and the hospital, which included sharing whether they were impacted by the exceedance and where the closest lead lateral is if not. Affected customers should have already gotten information about the tests, and more information will be shared with affected homeowners on upcoming utility bills.
Water samples are done inside 30 homes each year, taken from the faucet of the customer. The DNR and the EPA set a level of 15 parts per billion for the failure standard.
SU previously exceeded the action level in 2014, and last month’s tests indicate lower levels of lead present at the affected homes’ faucets than the 2014 results, the letter from SU reads.
SU has been working over the past several years to remove the lead service lines that are publicly owned, but eradicating them completely will require homeowner cooperation.
“I think we have a lot of opportunity on the education side, but also to develop a program to get the lead out of the system, and that’s really the only way to truly address this issue, because we believe that we can get back in compliance,” she said.
After the 2014 failure, which resulted in, among other things, River Bluff Middle School using water bottles for children for five months, subsequent samples showed below action levels. Part of the “proactive” strategy SU is employing is another round of testing.
In addition to extra testing, Weiss said SU is working on removing its lead service lines.
“We have been diligently replacing our side of the lead service, the challenge is that we only own to the curb stop,” she said.
When lead lines are removed, SU notices the affected customers to inform them of the replacement.
“We send out to that customer to basically give them awareness that we are replacing that side of the service, but really, if you can, we strongly encourage you to replace yours,” she said, adding that of the 75 lines that were replaced this year, five are going to be replaced on the private side.
The average cost to replace a water service line is between $3,000-$5,000, Stoughton Utilities information said.
The city’s Finance committee has been crafting an affordable housing fund, with the goal of establishing it by the end of the year, and early discussions have included setting aside funds to go toward supporting homeowners who want to replace their privately owned lead service lines but might not have the funds to do so.
Even if the city implements it right away and customers take advantage of it as soon as possible, new lines would be at least several months away, so Weiss has started another initiative – distributing a water filtration pitcher at no cost to homes with higher risks. Those include homes with lead service lines with young children or expecting mothers.
Lead in Stoughton
Lead pipes were used in Stoughton for private water service lines through the 1950s, according to information shared by SU, while homes constructed after 1960 are unlikely to have lead water service lines.
However, even some newer homes could have lead within their plumbing.
The EPA identifies several sources of lead in drinking water in addition to lead service lines. These could include copper pipes with lead solder, which could have high lead levels if made or installed before 1986. Some faucet fixtures could contain lead, as well as pipes that connect to lead service line to the water main.
Congress restricted the amount of lead allowed in plumbing materials in 1986, and a 2013 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act reduced the amount of lead allowed in plumbing fixtures.
Some of the information shared with affected homeowners includes how to identify a lead water service line and a pamphlet about the health impacts of lead.
If it is determined that a home has lead service lines, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene and Northern Lake Service Inc. could test the drinking water at the homeowner’s expense.
On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers signed Executive Order 36, which directs state agencies to take extra efforts to prevent lead poisoning through collaboration among health departments and community organizations, referring to “Wisconsin’s lead crisis.”