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Precautions Advised After High Lead Levels Found In Some Durham Homes

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DURHAM, N.C. — Lead contamination could be a citywide risk for Durham, despite city officials' past assurances that it was limited to an apartment complex where a child was poisoned, test results show.

Of 89 water samples taken over the past month, 18 homes -- about one in five-- showed lead contamination above federal safety guidelines.

Seven of the sites that tested above the limit are miles from Penrith Townhomes, where the city had said the contamination was contained. Eleven homes that tested above the limit are in or near the apartment complex.

Lead is especially toxic to young children, and can cause brain damage and other developmental problems.

The lead that could be lurking in their water worried mother Leigh Bordley. Her home is one of thousands in Durham County that was built during the time period that the lead contamination took place.

"It's not a good thing but I'm not alarmed," said Bordley. "I think it's good to raise people's awareness about the dangers of lead."

The Durham Department of Water Management said that it will will conduct a free lead test on any home in the Durham service area that was built between 1982 and 1987 that have:

  • Copper pipes with lead solder, or
  • Lead pipes and/or,
  • Lead service lines may have an elevated risk of lead in drinking water
  • Homeowners who meet that criteria are asked to contact


    to request containers and obtain specific sampling instructions.

    Health officials are asking residents to flush their pipes, avoid using hot water for drinking or cooking, and periodically clean strainers. The water department has listed further precautions to minimize lead content in water

    on their Web site.

    (PDF Document)

    State authorities have been pushing the Durham County Health Department to issue a citywide warning of the danger. However, both the city and the state stressed in a Friday news conference that a testing program hasn't found enough data to sound the alarm.

    "We do not see an emergency at this time," said Jeff Engel of the North Carolina Division of Public Health. "I will repeat, we do not see an increase in childhood lead toxcology levels in the State of North Carolina or in Durham."

    Water samples have been tested from the home of Mayor Bill Bell, and from a faucet at City Hall, records show. Water drawn in the mayor's kitchen was found to have lead contamination at 14 parts per billion, which is just below the federal safety limit of 15 parts.

    "It appears the combination that type of plumbing is involved there is possibility of some leeching of lead into water within the household," said Bell.

    Durham residents most at risk live in homes built before 1985, when a ban on the use of lead in the solder used to join copper pipes took effect.

    "That lead solder in pre-1985 pipes is a problem and can be a problem is plumbing systems, and we have consistently recommended that people flush their taps if water stands more than 6 to 8 hours," said Michael Adcock with the Durham Department of Water Management.

    Durham officials say the problem could be caused by ferric chloride, a chemical used to disinfect the water at one of the city's two treatment plants since January 2003. The chloride might have scoured away a protective film that builds up in pipes and then corroded the solder, causing lead to leach into the water.

    The city stopped using ferric chloride at one of its treatment plants on July 6, hoping it leads to a decline in lead contamination.

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