Lead Service Line Replacement is Personal for Ferndale Official as City Shares Updates
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 25, 2022)
Ferndale, MI – Ferndale City Councilperson Kat Bruner James knows the risks, inconveniences, and costs of lead-contaminated water. As a civil rights attorney, Bruner James worked on a legal team fighting for justice in the Flint water crisis. And as an elected official she serves on the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) Water Infrastructure Task Force.
But her experience is even more personal than that.
Bruner James and her family – including a daughter whose body and brain are still developing and could be impacted by lead exposure – live in a home with lead service lines. She had their water tested through the Oakland County Health Division, and sure enough lead was present.
The water itself, coming from Detroit and provided through the City of Ferndale Water Department, is fine. It is consistently treated, tested, and monitored for quality. The problem is that in older homes with lead service lines or copper lines with lead connections, water sitting in the lines overnight can absorb some of the toxic material.
In Jan. 2018 The State of Michigan adopted a Lead and Copper Rule that set standards for testing and requirements for replacing service lines. The burden of testing and the cost of replacement are placed on the operators of the water systems. In many cases, like Ferndale, its municipal water departments footing the bill.
In a Zoom presentation for residents on Feb. 24, DPW Director Dan Antosik and Project Manager Jeff Weeks joined Councilperson Bruner James for a discussion with residents about the city’s efforts to replace the lines.
In Ferndale there are 5,800 lines that either have lead or are unknown and will require digging to check. State Law required the City to replace 7% of lead lines in the first year after tests discovered unacceptably high levels of lead in water in homes with known lead lines. The City got a $10 million loan from the State which is expected to fund about 1,200-1,500 replacements over 3 years. They will likely seek another loan to continue with the required replacements. The goal is to have all 5,800 lines replaced within ten years.
In 2021 they replaced 555 lines, which is 9.5% of those in the system – exceeding the state requirement in the first year. They had mandated 413 (7%).
In 2022 the goal is to do 787 replacements. Antosik and his team look at other work being done in the city – such as water main replacements and road resurfacings – and tries to coordinate construction with those projects. Residents are typically given at least 15 days advance notice of appointments, and the work takes about 3 hours. Crews return within a couple of days to restore lawns and sidewalks. There is a contractor doing the work, and they are insured in the event of property damage. The work is warrantied for a year, and of the 555 jobs done so far, only one required the company to come back and tighten a connection due to a leak.
While it’s an efficient process, there is one repeated, and more costly, snag.
When homeowners don’t reply, it costs more to go back and do their individual home than doing a bunch in a row. And the City says the initial response rate is only 44%. And they can’t do them without permission.
The councilperson urged people to talk to neighbors about the program, and those with questions can contact the DPW and visit the City of Ferndale website for more information.
Another important part of the discussion was letting folks know what to do if they are concerned about lead leeching into their water.
Tips included running water anywhere in the house for five minutes in the morning to flush out water that had been standing in pipes overnight. This can be during a shower or in other uses not for drinking or consumption. Or it can mean simply turning on a faucet and waiting.
There are a number of filtration options – from whole-home systems, to faucet filters, to water pitchers with filters in them. Boiling water does not eliminate lead. In fact it makes the concentration higher because of the reduction of water.
Everyone, regardless of the potential for lead, should regularly clean the aerators on their faucets. This is a screen placed on the ends of faucets to capture particles, and add air to the water stream for improved pressure, reduced use, and better control of the water stream. Over time particles – including lead – can build up on the screen. Typically they screw on and off for easy cleaning or replacement.
The City of Ferndale has more information on their website about the replacement program, including how to find out if your home has lead or copper service lines, maps, timelines, resources, tips, contact information and more. Check it out at https://www.ferndalemi.gov/resources/lead-and-your-drinking-water