Study says current flushing guidelines for drinking water could increase lead exposure

Study says current flushing guidelines for drinking water could increase lead exposure
Updated: Jul. 25, 2018 at 5:35 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A new LSU Health study says the current recommendations to run water to flush out lead are not consistently effective and could even increase your exposure.

The guidelines are to run the tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. But, the recent study by the LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health found flushing may not be the best way to protect children from lead in drinking water.

"Utilities are still required to promote flushing so that's one of the problems," said LSU Health study leader Adrienne Katner, DEnv.

Katner says that flushing could even increase your lead exposure.

"The highest lead that we found in an occupied normal use home was 58 parts per billion and to put that into perspective 15 parts per billion is the EPA action level, so 58 parts per billion of lead and that was in the 30 second flush," Katner said.

Katner and her team tested water samples from nearly 400 homes on New Orleans east bank between February 2015 and November 2016.

"What we found is that most people who do flush, about a quarter of the people we tested, they actually do flush but they only flush for about 30 seconds or less so, it's increasing their risk if they only flush for that amount," said Katner. "We don't really see a decrease until about a six minute flush."

According to the study, New Orleans water lead levels we're typically low overall compared to that EPA action level. But, Katner has stressed that even low levels of lead can be dangerous for vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.

"We also have this historically unprecedented infrastructure replacement that's going on all over town and we have seen in our results that this can lead to very high spikes in lead," said Katner. "The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schools don't exceed one parts per billion, that's very hard to get down to in New Orleans and we saw at least one parts per billion in about 60 percent of the samples"

We talked with some New Orleans neighbors about the study, they tell us they would like to see more education on the issue.

"People need to be aware of it because it's pretty serious," said New Orleans resident Paul Yorio.

"I'm a teacher and so going to school and having public fountains and sinks I feel like that's something concerning to me, working with kids and having that exposure for them, if that was something that was critical I would want to know but, I just don't feel like there is coverage on it, the community doesn't know about it," said New Orleans resident Holly Kathol.

We reached out to the Sewerage and Water Board. The utility did not make anyone available for an interview saying they would first like to review the study with the appropriate members of their team.

"Mostly what they can do in lieu of replacing all the lead service lines is educate people, really educate people about why flushing may not work if you have a lead service line," said Katner.

Katner says a more effective way to reduce lead exposure is to use a certified water filter. She recommends a NSF 53 certified filter with a faucet mount.

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