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Lead levels in Grand Rapids’ water still good, despite some sampling changes

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
A copper service line at a home in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids officials say the city's drinking water is still well within federal standards for the presence of lead. Such testing is getting increased attention amid Flint's crisis with lead-tainted water.

The city posted the results on its website Friday after they were certified by state regulators; information that typically waits until the Consumer Confidence Report is mailed out.

“It’s just that there was so much focus on lead and copper in the last two years or so,” Joellen Thompson, Grand Rapids’ water system manager said.

She says the results from 52 homes tested over the summer show lead levels remain low overall.

Thompson says only one home had lead levels higher than the federal standard of 15 parts-per-billion. It was 41 ppb.

“Other than that, the next highest reading was six parts per billion. So all of our readings were quite low other than that one, so that really was an outlier,” she said.

Thompson says the city is doing more testing at that particular home to help determine where the lead is coming from. The results haven’t come in yet.

In 2013, the last year the city tested for lead, the highest single sample was 12 ppb.

There’s a couple of reasons some cities, like Detroit, may be seeing higher lead results in water samples beginning this year.

One is that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is instructing cities to stop using a common but controversial testing procedure called “preflushing” that can hide lead in water. Most all cities in Michigan instructed residents to “preflush” before this year.

In Grand Rapids, the city sent a professional to each home that was tested this summer to make sure the plumbing and water service line qualified the home to be tested in the first place. Only homes with the highest risks of lead in water, such as those with lead service lines, are supposed to be included in compliance testing.

The theory is that these homes would demonstrate if there was a system-wide problem with lead in water. Detroit and Kalamazoo also sent someone out to “verify” materials at the homes they tested.

“We went back in because it had been a few years since we had been in many of these homes,” Thompson said, “So a little more of a thorough inspection, you could say.”

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Enterprise Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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