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Birmingham issues lead advisory for tap water

Rudy and Peter Skitterians

Another municipality in Michigan is alerting residents about elevated levels of lead in drinking water and telling them about ways they can reduce their exposure to it.

The public notice was triggered by water testing done by the city of Birmingham in September.

The Detroit suburb tested 32 sites with lead service lines. Five of them exceeded the action level of 15 parts per billion for lead in drinking water. The tests were done using the more stringent protocols adopted by the state of Michigan after the Flint water crisis.

"That threshold is not a health based threshold," said Joe Valentine, Birmingham's city manager. "It's really a threshold set forth for additional testing and additional education so that people can take the information and make informed decisions if they want to make changes to their homes."

Valentine said nothing has changed in the source, treatment or quality of Birmingham's drinking water. 

Health experts say there is no safe level of lead exposure. 

Valentine said some of the next steps Birmingham will take are more testing and an extensive public education campaign, along with providing filters to all homes that exceed the state action level. He said the city also plans to collect 60 drinking water samples every six months.

According to Valentine, a complete inventory of customers with lead service lines will be finished by the end of this year. He said he expects the number will be about 550 - or about 6% of Birmingham's almost 9,000 water customers.

Valentine said the state requires communities to have a plan in place next year to replace all lead service lines by 2041, at the rate of at least 7% per year.

"We're targeting the properties that have lead service lines as a priority to let those homeowners know that they may have elevated levels of lead and what they can do to resolve those issues if they wish to," said Valentine.

Valentine said Oakland County will provide a filter for free if a household cannot afford one and has a child or pregnant woman in the home.  

The public notice also provides information on how to obtain a list of laboratories certified for lead and copper testing if residents want to have their drinking water tested before the city gets to it.

Other Michigan municipalities that have exceeded the state action level for lead are White Lake Township, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Benton Harbor, Clare, and the Kalamazoo County suburb of Parchment.

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