There are more than 2,500 drinking water systems in Connecticut.
Since 2000, 186 of them have been listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as having reported lead concentrations that exceeded the level requiring action— many of them multiple times. Systems must act if levels of lead above 15 parts per billion are found in more than 10 percent of taps sampled. Most of the systems have wells as their water source and serve under a thousand users, with a few exceptions.
Many of those included in the data have not reported elevated lead levels in recent years.
Some water systems had repeated reports of elevated lead levels, like Burr District Elementary School in the Higganum section of Haddam, with 12 notifications since 2000. Burr has been using bottled water since it first learned of the elevated lead levels in 2001.
Exposure to lead can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys, especially for young children and pregnant women.
Children are especially susceptible to lead exposure because their bodies absorb these metals at higher rates than the average adult. Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause lowered IQ, hearing impairment, reduced attention span, and poor classroom performance, according to the EPA.
The most common source of lead in drinking water is corrosion of plumbing materials. Plumbing materials that can contain lead include pipes, solder, fixtures, and faucets.
It should be noted that there are about 90,000 public schools and 500,000 child care facilities nationwide that are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These unregulated schools and facilities may or may not be voluntarily testing their drinking water.
In 2015, 25 water systems in Connecticut reported high levels of lead. Five of those systems were schools or child care facilities.
The State Police Barracks for Troop I in Bethany had 940 parts per billion lead in their drinking water in 2000, the highest concentration reported in Connecticut in that time frame. That’s 62 times the threshold at which the EPA recommends taking action.
Lead in plumbing was first outlawed in 1986 by the Safe Drinking Water Act and regulation was strengthened in 1991. Before 1991, the action level was set at 50 ppb. Officials, however, say that there is no safe level of lead exposure.
Exceeding an action level is not a violation but can trigger a number of requirements, including water-quality monitoring or treatment, controlling corrosion in plumbing systems, informing members of the public about steps they should take to protect their health and replacing service lines containing lead.
Within 60 days after the end of a monitoring period in which the action level was exceeded, the system must deliver materials to bill-paying customers and post lead information on water bills, work in concert with local health agencies to reach at-risk populations (children, pregnant woman), deliver notifications to other organizations serving “at-risk” populations, and provide press releases and post to web sites if more than 100,000 customers are served.
Connecticut’s Department of Public Health has many resources for those who want to know more about their lead poisoning prevention and control program.
Check our work: The GitHub repository containing our work is available here. We encourage you to look over our calculations and expand upon our analysis.