A story published by Log Cabin Democrat media partner USA Today last week indicated the company that supplies water to Faulkner County communities was among 2,000 water systems spanning 50 states where testing showed excessive levels of lead contamination in samples over the past four years.
Community Water System, which supplies water to communities in Faulkner, Cleburne and Van Buren counties, was tagged once in 2012 as having one exceedance of Environmental Protection Agency’s 15 parts per billion lead standard, at 25 ppb.
The EPA determines that a system has exceeded the lead standard when more than 10 percent of samples taken show lead levels above 15 ppb. It’s called an "action level" because, at that level, water systems are required to take action to reduce contamination.
"We did have one occurrence [in Van Buren County] when we were testing at a scale of 30 [taps] at a time," Mike Messer, customer information compliance manger for Community Water System, told the Log Cabin. "But what you have to know is that our source water doesn’t contain lead and our distribution water doesn’t contain lead. This was one property that tested positive in 2012 out of [roughly 300] we have tested since."
The testing required by the government can include samples from as few as five or 10 taps in a year, or even over multiple years, USA Today reported.
The system is designed only to give an indication of whether homes or buildings with lead pipes and plumbing may be at higher risk of lead leaching into water. Even the biggest water systems in cities are required to test just 50 to 100 taps.
Messer explained, as does national research, that the lead problem experienced nationwide may be even more widely unknown, as water systems are limited to the number of properties they can physically test at a time. While a water system like Community Water can control source and distribution water quality from the plant, once drinking water enters a home’s piping system, there are variables that can create a problem.
Water distribution systems and household plumbing often were constructed with lead piping until Congress banned the use of lead in 1986.
USA Today reported there are about 75 million homes across the country built before that ruling and could contain some lead plumbing. That’s more than half of the country’s housing units, according to the Census Bureau. "There are a certain number of houses where that could happen," Messer said. "It is important that people have knowledge of their piping, know the age of their home and know the kind of fixtures they have in their homes. For homes built after 1986, that worry diminishes significantly."
Messer said Community Water does take steps to help retard lead from leaching into water with anti-corrosion chemicals, including adding a polyphosphate from the plant to help coat pipes.
Messer said Community Water also provides resources for homeowners to do their own tap water testing through private laboratories.
"In the last three years, we have had 15-20 customers do their own tests, and we have never had one come back positive," he said. "Homeowners are not required to report back to us their findings, but we have not had anyone report a positive test."
Messer said any time a sample comes back positive for lead, all Community Water customers are notified of the findings, a protocol that was followed after the 2012 test. The company produced a complete water quality report in 2014 which is available on its website, and is planning to release its most current quality report in April.
Faulkner County attorney David Hogue told the Log Cabin the county has a waterworks and sewer public facilities board that generally addresses issues of public safety, roadways and infrastructure.
However, there is no government oversight of drinking water quality issues at a local or county level. The EPA is responsible for that aspect.
Hogue said county leaders are aware of this finding and will assist residents and communities seeking information and resources on the topic.
USA Today contributed to this article.