Water tests look for high levels of copper, lead

-A A +A
By Gabriel Vasquez

In accordance with state code, a random sample of residents in Los Alamos with homes built prior to 1983 will have their water tested in mid-June for elevated levels of copper and lead.

Because most homes built pre-1983 came with industrial strength “original piping,” there is a possibility that corrosion of interior plumbing may lead to elevated levels of copper and lead, and consequently contaminate a homeowner’s water source.

The testing, required by the New Mexico Department of Health, occurs every three years.

In 2005, the Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities determined that there were no significant levels of either copper or lead in the water of Los Alamos homes.

“We had our water tested in accordance with the 2005 testing program and found that our water and pipes were well within the limits,” study participant Joan Boudreau said.

Allison Majure, spokeswoman for public relations at the Los Alamos Public Utilities Department, said that the testing is offered to local residents as a community service, and that if dangerous levels of copper and lead were to be found, it would be up to the homeowner to correct the problem.

“It would be their responsibility to mitigate the situation since it’s on their private property,” Majure said.

However, Majure said the chances of that occurring are very unlikely, considering that a majority of the homes tested in 2005 showed no detectable signs of either element, and the few that did were well below the range of the EPA’s acceptable limit.

The testing is set to take place in mid-to-late June, and a sufficient number of homeowners and tenants have already been recruited to participate in the study.

Pete Padilla, environmental compliance officer for the county of Los Alamos, said the process is simple, and that homeowners chosen to participate should expect to receive a testing kit that consists of a collapsed, plastic water bottle and a set of detailed instructions.

“Taking the water sample and having it picked up by utilities’ staff was a simple and straightforward process,” Boudreau said.

Homeowners are instructed to limit the use of water prior to testing the next day, so that water may collect in the pipes overnight and a more accurate sample can be taken.

The utilities department then picks up the sample the same day and mails it to the scientific laboratory division of the Department of Public Health. Results usually return around August or September.

“The drinking water here is very clean,” Padilla said.

Other cities in New Mexico have not fared so well. In 2006, the City of Las Cruces Utilities Department released a water quality report that listed a concentration of uranium above the New Mexico Drinking Water Standard. An excess of alpha emitters was also recorded.

“Exposure to uranium in drinking water may result in toxic effects to the kidney,” the report states. “Some persons who drink water containing alpha {particle) emitters in excess of the MCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”

In Los Alamos, no elevated levels of uranium, arsenic, chromium, fluoride or alpha emitters have been found, according to the county’s drinking water quality report, although a lawsuit was filed in February of this year against Los Alamos National Laboratories by community organizations that claimed the lab “knowingly contaminated ancestral water,” and cited violations of the Clean Water Act directly attributed to LANL.

“We have joined forces to hold LANL accountable for more than 60 years of contamination that now threatens our future drinking water supply,” said Brian Shields of Amigos Bravos in a February news release.

According to the Department of Health, New Mexico regions with historically problematic water systems include Hidalgo, Luna, Socorro and Roosevelt counties, which have all had at least one microbiological violation in the past ten years.

A full copy of the complaint against LANL is available at www.amigosbravos.org/lanl.php.