By M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer
14 March 2016
(Reuters) – In this town of 2,800 just south of the Canadian border, residents have long worried about the water flowing from their taps.
The water in one household is so corrosive it gutted three dishwashers and two washing machines. Another couple's water is so salty the homeowners tape the taps when guests visit. Even the community's welcome center warns travelers, "Do Not Drink The Water."
So, when the water crisis in Flint, Michigan happened, Stephanie Weiss and husband Andy Greene feared that, as in Flint, their corrosive water was also unleashing lead into their tap water. Weiss scoured water-testing reports in Orleans and discovered the truth: Lead levels in her water - fed by a private well - exceed the threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for public water systems and utilities.
The community's experience is not unique. Across the country, millions of Americans served by private wells drink, bathe and cook with water containing potentially dangerous amounts of lead, Reuters reporting and recent university studies show.
Researchers from Penn State Extension and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, or Virginia Tech, tested private well systems in their states and found that 12 percent of wells in Pennsylvania and 19 percent in Virginia had lead levels exceeding the maximum EPA threshold for public water systems. Lead poisoning can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, and brain damage. It is especially dangerous to children, as small amounts of exposure can cause irreversible developmental delays.
Though most Americans are served by public water utilities, private wells are the main source of drinking water for 15 percent of U.S. households, or 47.8 million people. Typically located in rural areas, private wells serve residents not connected to municipal water lines. Though many wells are found in impoverished communities, some serve wealthy homeowners and those living in urban environments.
Little research has examined the lead risk in private well water on a national scale. But if the researchers' rate played out nationally, more than 9 million Americans served by private wells would have unsafe levels of lead in their water, according to a paper published in October by some of the same Virginia Tech researchers who found lead in Flint's water. [more]