Above: intake plumbing in a 1920s East Lansing basement.
The City of East Lansing has sent out a news bulletin informing residents that the City needs to “create an inventory of the type of pipe material used in water lines servicing East Lansing properties.” Although the City is not required by current regulations to replace fixtures or water service lines made of potentially toxic materials, in response to the lead poisoning of Flint’s water system, City officials say they are anticipating updates to safe drinking water regulations. These regulatory revisions are expected to involve municipalities locating and removing lead components in public water systems.
In order to locate components and fixtures potentially made of hazardous materials, the City is asking property owners to fill out an online survey. The survey asks residents to locate their water service line and identify the material — plastic, copper, galvanized steel, or lead — of which it is made.
According to City Infrastructure Administrator Ron Lacasse, East Lansing has “no known lead service lines” in its water system. However, says Lacasse, “the City is aware of lead ‘goosenecks’ … which accompany galvanized service lines at the water main.”
Lacasse also notes that City staff “do not have records of the specific locations of galvanized service lines”, which means that the City has no clear record about where there might be lead goosenecks in the City’s water supply system.
Since lead was slowly phased out as a construction material starting in the 1940’s, the City of East Lansing believes that areas of the City constructed before 1940 are most at risk. This includes sections of the Oakwood, Chesterfield Hills, Glencairn, Southeast Marble, Bailey, and Flowerpot neighborhoods.
Before the City released its statement on the possibility of lead plumbing fixtures in the East Lansing water system, it had dealt with lead piping in the public water system on a rolling basis: replacing lead goosenecks whenever property owners replaced a service line leading into their houses, during routine maintenance, or upon other cases where lead piping was revealed.
This strategy has allowed the City to remove several dangerous lead fixtures, but has not substantially increased City staff’s knowledge of where the remaining lead fixtures might be. This missing spatial information appears to be why the City has now turned to self-reported citizen surveys to gather data.
A cross-sectional diagram attached to the City’s notification provides more technical detail. A service line connecting a residence to City water typically runs from the water meter back to a service valve (or “curb stop”) owned by the City, which is in turn connected to another service line which leads back to another valve (or “corporation stop”) that feeds the service line from the water main through a curved piece of pipe called a “gooseneck.” This gooseneck component may be made of lead.
Lacasse presented two reasons why a galvanized service line might not be connected to a lead gooseneck. The City “may have already replaced the galvanized portion of the water service containing the gooseneck, while the property owner’s galvanized portion of the service … remains in place.” Since the property owner owns the infrastructure leading from the meter to the service valve, the City would not replace that section of piping.
Another possibility, according to Lacasse, is that a property owner replaces his or her side of a galvanized steel service line, which might attach to a lead gooseneck without their knowledge. However, such a replacement must be accompanied by a City inspection. Therefore, Lacasse states, during this kind of replacement, if the piping on the other side of the service valve was made of galvanized steel and thus had a chance of connecting to a lead gooseneck, the City’s side of the water delivery infrastructure would have been replaced.
A property owner’s replacement of his or her side of a galvanized steel service line, says Lacasse, must be accompanied by a City inspection. Therefore, he says, the City’s side of the water delivery infrastructure would have been replaced by the City if the piping on the other side of the service valve was also made of galvanized steel.
Residents who find that their service line is made of galvanized steel should not panic, but can call the Department of Public Works at (517) 337-9459 for a free inspection.
Lead in drinking water became a significant problem in Flint because administrators working for the unelected Emergency Managers (installed in Flint due to the State’s passage of Public Act 436) decided to switch water sources to the Flint River, and neglected to properly treat their new source of water. Decisions to treat the water in ways that increased its corrosivity, as well as the failure to treat the water with anti-corrosive chemicals, meant that the water corroded particles of lead from the inside of pipes, greatly increasing lead levels in the drinking water throughout Flint.
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