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Lead Testing Results May Be Skewed

A new chapter in the ongoing debate about the safety of lead in plumbing finds Boston in the center of a controversy about the accuracy of lead testing results. At least 33 cities in 17 states are accused of gaming the results of lead tests on regular municipal water samples.

Lead testing not conducted according to guidelines

The cities in question, which include Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit use a questionable strategy for measuring the amount of lead taken from taps in their service areas. The problem is so disturbing that last week, a law firm filed a class-action lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia, alleging that the testing protocols in place in that city serve to obscure the number of sites that test positive for elevated lead levels, and that water department officials conspired to exclude high test results.

In a story published by The Guardian, the newspaper says that the cities in question routinely used lead test protocols that could produce more favorable results, and could underestimate the number of sites with elevated lead levels. Lead tests are required by the Environmental Protection Agency, and cities are required to test the water in a small sample of homes every three years.

The Guardian says that in many cases, the test results are run on water that has been collected by residents, and that residents are typically instructed to “pre-flush” the water line before collecting the water sample. To pre-flush a water line, the tester would simply open the tap and let the water run for a defined period of time prior to collecting the sample. Pre-flushing eliminates the lead that has leached into the water standing in the pipe.

In addition, officials also corrupt the results of the test by removing aerators and filters before the test samples are collected. In some cities, high-risk homes (and homes known or suspected to be contaminated with lead) were simply removed from the testing regimen.

For nearly a decade, the EPA has stated that pre-flushing violates the “intent” of the test and has cautioned municipal systems not to instruct collectors to pre-flush the water lines. For a decade, EPA officials have asked municipalities not to remove faucet-level aerators from the fixture before collecting the water sample. Boston has already said that it plans to change its testing methodologies to conform more closely to EPA guidelines for the city’s next set of EPA tests.

If you’re concerned about lead in your home’s plumbing system, the experts at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help. We can help you secure more accurate water samples for testing, and we can also perform abatement services to remove lead pipes, lead plumbing solder and old brass fixtures that may contain lead. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime to set up a consultation.

Photo Credit: Vlad Iorga, via FreeImages.com