U.S. Water News Online
DURHAM, N.C. -- The city of Durham withheld drinking water
samples with dangerous amounts of lead from test results it sent to
the state and could end up failing to meet federal water standards.
The city failed to disclose at least 20 test results from seven
homes, a violation of federal rules. Five of the seven homes had high
levels of lead, enough to possibly push the city past the federal
threshold for lead standards.
The city also didn't notify residents of the tainted tap water, a
violation that endangered the health of those families.
"We overlooked some things," said Vicki Westbrook, manager of
regulatory compliance for the Durham water department. "We made
mistakes. But it wasn't like we were trying to hide anything. We
didn't do this on purpose."
Ingesting even tiny amounts of lead can be toxic for pregnant
women and children under 6, causing brain damage and developmental
Durham was asked to provide lead testing this year after blood
from a child was found in March to contain high amounts of lead.
Water from the kitchen faucet in the child's apartment contained lead
at 837 parts per billion -- nearly 60 times the federal limit.
Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, knowingly submitting
false test results is a felony, punishable by fines and prison time.
The city will be cited with state regulatory reporting violations,
which carry no penalty, said Terry Pierce, director of the state
Division of Environmental Health.
If the city fails to meet safe drinking water standards that could
trigger tighter regulatory supervision and possibly kill a
multimillion-dollar deal to supply drinking water to the neighboring
town of Hillsborough.
A water provider is in compliance if no more than 10 percent of
the samples contain lead above the federal limit of 15 parts per
Durham is required to test a minimum of 50 homes. In past years,
the city has sampled far more than the minimum number of sites,
testing 95 homes in 2004. Only four homes tested over the federal
The city this year reported collecting samples from 69 homes. Four
homes were reported over the limit -- well within the allowable 10
If the withheld results from the seven additional homes are added,
including the five with high lead levels, nearly 12 percent of the
sampled houses would have exceeded the federal standard.
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