EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one in a two-part series on the Piqua Water System. Part two will expand upon Piqua’s other water sources and the new Water Treatment Plant currently under construction.
PIQUA — “Absolutely.”
“Without a doubt.”
When asked if the water in Piqua is safe, those were the responses of Piqua City Manager Gary Huff and Piqua Water Systems Superintendent Don Freisthler. According to a new poll from the Associated Press, just under half of Americans – 47 percent – are as confident as that about their water supply. With the safety of drinking water continuing to be a hot topic following the Flint, Mich., and Sebring water crises, how much do residents know about where their water comes from and what happens to their water before it reaches their faucets?
While one of Piqua’s water sources is a river – the Great Miami River – that is where the similarities between the water supply in Flint, Mich., and Piqua appear to end. The Flint River, which is where the city of Flint began getting its water from in April 2014, is an aggressive water source, while the Great Miami River is not. The water from the Flint River corroded the insides of old piping, putting residents who had lead pipes or lead solder at risk of having their water contaminated with that lead.
The city of Flint also did not utilize corrosion control treatment to keep that from happening. The Michigan Auditor General’s Office found that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) failed to ensure that the Flint Water Treatment Plant had implemented a corrosion control treatment after the city of Flint switched its water source.
The Piqua Water System does the opposite. There are also over 300 quality tests done per day at the Piqua Water System.
“We add a number of things,” Freisthler said. “We test each week to make sure our water is stable and that is done on a test that allows us to see what other water is either (coating) the pipe system or if we are corroding the pipes.”
Freisthler explained that the Piqua Water System runs a test each week and they make sure that Piqua’s water is a little on the coating side.
“The buildup of a calcium deposit or a lime deposit in our lines literally insulates our water from any uptake of lead or any other copper or anything we don’t want to leach back into our system,” Freisthler said. “We also add another element in the water, a product called hexametaphosphates.”
That is part Piqua’s corrosion control treatment. “That’s a blend of phosphates that also ensures that our water is noncorrosive,” Freisthler said.
In regard to lead testing, the Piqua Water System recently underwent testing between July and August 2015, results of which were sent to the Ohio EPA. In a statement released on Huff’s blog, the Piqua Water System explained that they are required to undergo lead and copper testing only every three years — having previously been every year and then every two years — due to many years of being in steady compliance with Ohio EPA standards.
“I’ve been here and involved since 2006, and all our required lead testing has well been within required compliance levels for the Ohio EPA,” Freisthler said.
The level at which the city would be required to take action is is 15 micrograms per liter (ug/L) or 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. The testing cannot detect lower than 2 ppb. For comparison, Virginia Tech researchers found that 25 percent of homes in Flint, Mich. were above the 15 ppb threshold, with some residences even as high as 13,200 ppb in around September 2015.
For all but one of the sites tested in Piqua in 2015, the lead testing came up with less than 2 ppb. One site, a garage sink on Forest Avenue, came up with 11 ppb.
“During our most recent lead screen, we had one site that had an elevated lead level, still underneath the action level which is half of the maximum amount of lead that would be allowed in our water,” Freisthler said. “That being as elevated as it was led us to want to find out why because it was the only site in town that was of concern, so I contacted that resident and spoke to him about the location where they sample was taken. He let me know that there was a flow restrictor on that line and it didn’t get flushed according to the instructions we give each homeowner.”
According to those instructions, the homeowner must test from a kitchen or bathroom sink, not a sink in a garage. The resident must also “remove the aerator from the faucet and flush it until the water runs cold” for approximately a minute. The resident then must not use the water for at least six hours, giving the water the proper exposure after the line is flushed.
Residents who are a part of having their water tested generally let their water sit unused overnight. The next morning, the first thing the resident does is collect the water sample, “before flushing the toilet, brushing teeth or making coffee,” according to the instructions provided to the resident.
When the resident there retested the water according to instructions “there was no detectable lead or copper at that time,” according to Freisthler. Freisthler explained that the previously detected lead was due to “possible lead in solder joints in his copper tubing or the actual lead that can be present in older faucets prior to the new lead free regulations.”
The testing was also completed by an outside contractor.
“We’re not able to run lead and copper results in-house,” Freisthler said. Freisthler also thanked the residents who do participate in the testing, adding, “We do appreciate all the people that voluntarily participate in our program for us.”
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall