No signs of longstanding lead issues in Bordentown, NJ

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Kyle Bagenstose reports for the Burlington County Times:

Drinking water and blood data reviewed by this news organization show no signs of a longstanding lead issue in the Bordentown area, after the local water system exceeded the EPA’s limits for the toxic metal last year. However, a lack of state blood testing data for Bordentown City makes it difficult to gauge the level of recent exposure in children.
After the Bordentown City Water Department exceeded the federal limits for lead in its drinking water system last year, residents and experts wondered how long the system’s customers may have been exposed to the toxic metal.
But city records newly reviewed by this news organization show no apparent signs of consistently high levels of lead in drinking water in recent years, or elevated blood levels in area children. On the other hand, state data show there were signs of elevated levels of lead in area children in the early 2000s, following a previous lead-in-water issue.
The blood data also show a lack of current testing for the city’s children, making it difficult to determine whether or not there has been any increase of lead in their blood, even though law state requires such testing. The low compliance rate could make it difficult to assess exposure as the area continues to see high lead levels in 2018.
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What happened?
As previously reported, the Bordentown City Water Department exceeded the federal limits for lead in drinking water last year after the state Department of Environmental Protection told officials to change which homes they tested for the metal. The water department, which also serves Bordentown Township and provides water to Fieldsboro, does not have lead in the water coming from its treatment plant, near Crosswicks Creek.
Lead typically leaches from piping along the distribution route; either from lead water mains, service connections to homes, or internal household plumbing. City officials have said the system has no lead water mains, and that they instead suspect lead is leaching out from in-home plumbing at numerous residences.
Still, federal law holds water systems responsible for preventing lead from entering tap water. Water systems are required to sample a designated number of homes, typically 30 or 60 residences, and include “high risk” homes they believe might be susceptible to lead contamination. If 10 percent of the homes tested exceed a 15 parts per billion (pbb) “action level” set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the system is required to make adjustments at its treatment plant to try and stop lead from leaching from pipes.
Last year, about 21 percent of 74 homes tested by Bordentown City exceeded 15 ppb, and the city’s 10th percentile rating was 30 ppb, or double the EPA limit. Bordentown City officials say they are adjusting the water’s pH level in an attempt to make the water less corrosive, which would be expected to curb any lead leaching into water.
But high lead levels have continued to appear in 2018, according to NJDEP data. Of 62 homes tested so far, 11 have tested above 15 ppb as of June 22, with three of them showing more than 100 ppb. Eight of the homes weren’t tested in 2017, meaning they were newly discovered.
The state will determine whether or not the water system has returned to compliance with the lead standard when the testing period closes at the end of June.
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