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After Flint water crisis, Orleans officials insist city water is safe

Water treatment plant (FOX 8 Photo) Water treatment plant (FOX 8 Photo)

The Flint water crisis has raised concerns about lead levels in water everywhere, and New Orleans is no exception.

The Orleans Sewerage and Water Board said despite of dozens of miles of lead pipes, the city's water is safe, but some say more tests are needed.

The S&WB they purifies 130 million gallons of water each day, and they say it's lead-free when it leaves the Carrollton Treatment Plant.

"It's a high-quality product safe to drink," said Joe Becker, a superintendent with the S&WB.

But for some, it's the water that's winding up in people's homes that's a bigger concern, especially after lead started showing up in the water in Flint, Michigan.

Though the water leaves the treatment plant lead-free, some worry about what happens later in the Orleans water distribution system. Many lead pipes  were installed prior to 1970 when standards were changed, which raises concern in some of the city's older neighborhoods.

"I think so, we have an old water distribution system. We have old homes, and the pipes in the street are a potential source of lead," said Tulane lead expert Felicia Rabito, PhD.

In scores of homes, lead pipes were used to connect water mains in the middle of the street to meters in front yards. Some may even have lead pipes inside.

"I think people are concerned for a good reason. Lead is a dangerous element, we know we have exposure due to old water system and old homes," Rabito said.

The national standard for lead in water is 15 parts per billion. The city's S&WB director said the city's lead concentration is less than half that.

"We are no higher than six," said Director Cedric Grant.

But public health experts question testing protocols. The S&WB runs 17 samples every year and flushes the water lines for two minutes before testing.

"To maximize testing, you should test before you flush. If you flush it, you will get an artificially lower level," Rabito said.

But Grant said current testing with a two-minute line flush follows EPA guidelines.

"The system works better when things move through the system - it just does. Just run the water," said Grant.

Though the S&WB insists lead in their water is not a problem, they do have a program to replace lead pipes whenever they come across one.

"If they see lead, we change from a maintenance activity to a replacement activity," said Grant.

The water board said it treats its water with anti-corrosives - something Flint didn't do. But many still worry.

"Lead is a known neurotoxin, and it's known to affect every organ in the body," said Rabito.

The water board says if you have concerns, give them a call at ‘52WATER’, and they will send you a test kit. But they ask that you flush the line for two minutes before running that test.

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