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Developments in Brief : No Lead Problem in Los Angeles Area, Local Water Agencies Say

November 09, 1986|Compiled from Times staff and wire service reports

Despite new concerns by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that lead in drinking water may be more harmful than previously thought, Los Angeles area water agencies and the state Department of Health Services say that lead concentrations in California drinking water are practically non-detectable.

Currently, the amount of lead permissible in tap water is 50 parts per billion. The EPA said it is considering a new standard of 20 ppb. If the new standard is adopted, the EPA said, 38.1 million Americans would be drinking water exceeding the limit.

But the health threat appears to be most acute in the East in such cities as Boston, where lead pipes are still widely in service. Levels range from 2 ppb to 3 ppb in water delivered by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. The Metropolitan Water District, which wholesales water to municipal water agencies in Southern California, said there is no detectable lead in its water.

The problem--if there is one--comes after the water reaches the in-house plumbing or the service pipe between the water main and the house where tin-lead solder is used to link sections of pipe. Lead from the solder can leach into the water, especially if the plumbing is less than a year old.

Laurent McReynolds, assistant chief engineer for water with the DWP, said the department surveyed the homes of 101 employees in October, 1984, and again in January, 1985. He said lead concentrations were measured ranging from the laboratory detection limit of 10 ppb up to 50 ppb, with 96 homes under the detection limit.

The lead solder is being phased out beginning next year under federal and state laws. In the meantime, water utilities will be required to notify customers what they can do to minimize any possible health threat, such as running the tap water for a minute each morning before using to eliminate any overnight buildup of lead.

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