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Massachusetts making inventory of water service lines to identify those made of lead

A glass of tap water.
Nancy Eve Cohen
/
NEPM
A glass of tap water.

Public water systems that provide drinking water in western Massachusetts are working on inventories to identify pipes that contain lead. The inventory is required by the revised lead and copper rule set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Water departments are conducting the inventory in a number of ways — by reviewing and digitizing paper records, surveying the service lines and sometimes asking property owners to assist.

Jaimye Bartak, communications manager with the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, said the commission is in the final stages of wrapping up its inventory. It serves 175,000 people in Springfield and Ludlow.

"We have offered, to this last portion of customers, the option to send in a picture of the service lines, because most of those pictures can provide enough information to identify whether they're noncopper or a brass material. But if we can't identify it from the picture we'll schedule a physical inspection," she said.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has developed a web-based app for residents who want to submit photographs.

Bartak said lead pipes look dull grey or white from oxidization. She said the Springfield Commission has already documented and removed any lead lines that it identified years ago.

Amy Rusiecki, assistant superintendent of Amherst Public Works, said the town has been chipping away at the inventory for several years. She said the process involves identifying properties where there is lead, where this isn't any — and where they don't have enough information.

"This process is really kind of making us put every single service line in one of those three buckets so that we know where we can focus our work," Rusiecki said.

She said one of the challenges in Amherst is the town's water system doesn't own the lines that bring water into homes and businesses. So, in some cases, the town doesn't have all the information it needs. In some other communities, the water system is responsible for the service line all the way to the basement.

Although the federal deadline for completing the inventory is Oct. 16, 2024, the state Department of Environmental Protection is asking water departments to submit a draft by April 1st.

According to the EPA, even low levels of lead in the blood of children can cause serious health effects.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.