Lead Poisoning: A Concern In Wyoming?
As residents of Flint, Michigan grapple with city water being contaminated with lead due to what EPA officials have called a perfect storm of events, Wyoming residents should also be aware of what's in their own water supply, according to Converse County Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Morgan.
"There has not been a history in Wyoming of lead contamination," Morgan said.
The City of Douglas gets its water from the Little Boxelder Spring, Sheep Mountain Well and the North Platte River. Frequent testing of the city's water system is conducted at the local water treatment plant, and residents should feel safe with the community's water supply, Morgan said.
Water contaminated with lead often comes from pipes in older homes, as occurred in Flint with a city's water supply that also no longer contained corrosion control chemicals. Homes built prior to the 1930s often used lead piping. Regular sampling done by the EPA as per national standards compares water test results from the water treatment plant to randomly selected house taps throughout the community on a regular basis.
The biggest risk factor for lead poisoning for Wyoming residents is actually occupations – such as welding - that expose them to lead dust on a regular basis.
It's been nearly a decade since Wyoming regularly screened for lead in children. Because there were few cases of lead poisoning in the state, the screening program was discontinued, Morgan said. Many of the screenings were done as part of the Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988, which provided funding to local health departments for screening children for elevated blood lead levels.
"We did test for it in Wyoming, but we haven't been doing much in the last 10 years," Morgan said. "They never found any significant problems."
More stringent public water testing requirements has helped to eliminate contaminants in public water supplies across the country. What happened in Flint was a series of unfortunate events occurring simultaneously, Morgan said and it will take that state some time to straighten out the problem.
Even though there is little history of lead contamination in Wyoming's water, there are other contaminants that are more common, including arsenic, uranium, salts and sulfides. Local water systems also monitor for those contaminants, however private wells are not required to be tested, Morgan said.
"It's very, very lax for private," Morgan said. "I encourage people to do a full round of testing like the EPA requires of public water systems."
In fact, there are no testing requirements for private water wells in the state, even when they are initially drilling, said John Harju, assistant administrator of the ground water division at the State Engineer's office that is in charge of well permitting.
"We don't require people to test for water quality," Harju said. "We probably have water quality results for less than 10 percent of the water wells out there."
Bi-annually, Converse County Conversation District does offer free water testing of rural wells for bacteria (coliforms) and more information can be found about the testing days at http://www.conserveconverse.org/water-quality.html. The spring testing has tentatively been set for May 17, according to CCCD District Manager Michelle Huntington. Typically residents bring in about 200 water samples that are tested. However, there are more than 2,300 active permitted private water wells in the county.
Since the testing is only for bacteria, Morgan recommends that people with private water drinking wells consider more extensive testing to ensure their safety.
"Go get more than the state's free coliform test," Morgan said. "I'd strongly recommend testing at least once a year."