MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Leaders at Memphis Light, Gas & Water and lead safety advocates weighed in Friday, one day after Local 24 News learned 24 Shelby County schools tested positive for lead in water fountains and sinks, with some samples 40 timers the EPA limit.
The issue again shed light on the ongoing replacement of thousands of older, potential lead pipes within the MLGW system. Utility leaders said they’ve identified more than 15,000 lines across Memphis for possible lead.
The good news: the replacement work is underway.
The bad news: it will still take more than a decade to completely phase out those pipes, and homeowners are on the financial hook for some lines on their property.
“This is a good opportunity to raise awareness about this issue,” Evan Comeaux with the Memphis and Shelby County Lead Safe Collaborative said.
Lead safety is a passion for Comeaux, a toxicologist, at Memphis City Council and elsewhere.
The issue again hit home for him last week, when 39 of 2300 water samples at 24 SCS schools tested positive for lead, some at levels dozens of times above the EPA limit.
“Some people do try and downplay it, but it is a very serious toxin that can cause lifelong damage in children,” Comeaux said.
Many of the affected schools are in Memphis’ older neighborhoods inside the parkways.
Not only are the homes at greater risk since they were built before 1978, when homes used lead paint, but they’re also more likely to have lead service lines underneath.
“MLGW is being very proactive in changing these lines out,” MLGW’s VP of Engineering and Operations Nick Newman said.
Newman said although it will take probably 12 year to completely replace those at-risk pipes, there are other safeguards for customers when water comes out of their faucets.
“We do treat our water with a material that kind of coats the lines and helps with this type of situation called phosphate,” Newman said.
MLGW also does free lead testing, but only covers the replacement of lines from the street to the meter. Private replacement work costs thousands of dollars and MLGW and advocates are attempting to get grant money to assist low-income families.
“That’s on the homeowner and we are trying to find solutions for that,” Comeaux said.
More SCS schools could come up positive for traces of lead in their water, as district leaders said the results of 30 additional schools are expected Monday.