7 Investigates: Invisible Risk - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

7 Investigates: Invisible Risk

(Source: KLTV staff) (Source: KLTV staff)
KLTV looked at lead levels in five major East Texas cities. (Source: KLTV staff) KLTV looked at lead levels in five major East Texas cities. (Source: KLTV staff)
Crews in Tyler replacing service line pipes at homes with elevated lead levels. (Source: KLTV staff) Crews in Tyler replacing service line pipes at homes with elevated lead levels. (Source: KLTV staff)
Crews in Tyler replaced service line pipes on February 11. (Source: KLTV staff) Crews in Tyler replaced service line pipes on February 11. (Source: KLTV staff)
TYLER, TX (KLTV) -

Lead's odorless and colorless nature makes it hard for anyone to detect its presence, apart from specialized testing. 

The Center for Disease Control says that no level of lead is safe in the bloodstream of a child, and that all all sources of lead exposure for children should be controlled or eliminated for health reasons.  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set an action level for lead that drinking water should not exceed of 15 parts per billion (ppb).  When water tests come back at that level or higher, water suppliers have to take action. 

Depending on a city's size, water samples have to be submitted to a state certified lab and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Jacksonville, Lufkin, and Nacogdoches submitted 30 samples in 2015 and all were below the triggering level of 15ppb.  Longview tested 50 samples and 1 was over the action level.  In Tyler, 5 out of 50 returned over the level of 15ppb, ranging from 18 - 30ppb.

Samples are taken at homes selected by the water authority.  The residents submit samples voluntarily or water is taken from outside taps. 

Clayton Nicolardi, Environmental Compliance Engineer for the City of Tyler, says elevated lead levels wouldn't be found at the water treatment plant, but on private property. 

"It takes both the water system and the customer working together to reduce lead and copper levels," said Nicolardi. "Typically lead can come from a lot of household plumbing, it can be found in old fixtures, old plumbing in old construction houses."

Typically, it's an issue for the homeowner to tackle.  However, the homes in Tyler that submitted water samples in September had no idea their levels were elevated. 

Cities are required to mail the test results to residents within 30 days. In Tyler, no notices were sent after the September tests.  

Related: In midst of KLTV 7 investigation, Tyler announces changes for water quality improvement

TCEQ issued a reporting violation to the city for failing to notify residents on February 4. 

Nicolardi said elevations at one home do not automatically mean other surrounding homes built in the same year will have similar lead levels. 

"I would say no, and the reason why is one size doesn't fit all. We have locations that are in close proximity to those that had elevated levels," said Nicolardi. "They were on the same street if not the same neighborhood, but there was a difference there."

After an interview with KLTV on February 10, a spokesperson for TWU said results have been sent to all 50 people who volunteered to have their water tested in September. 

See lead testing results for major East Texas cities

State guidelines only require corrective action be taken by the city if 90% of the samples have an average above the state limit.  In Tyler's case, because only 10% tested over the limit, written notification was the only requirement to residents.

On February 11, TWU's manager Greg Morgan dispatched crews to some of the homes that tested positive for elevated lead levels. The crews replaced service line pipes leading from the customers' home water meter to the water main. 

Water samples ordered by KLTV at locations on College Avenue, Rowland Road, Kinsey Drive, Ferguson Street, and South Town Road found the majority of those locations tested between 1 and 3 parts per billion.  

Because it takes specialized testing to detect lead in drinking water, TCEQ recommends that customers contact their local water authority about testing if there is a lead concern.

CDC Recommendations on Lead

Tyler officials said they are now investigating the cause for the elevated levels and took re-tests at the five locations that tested high in September. The new February tests found that four of the five locations are now below the state action level of 15ppb. In addition, on Wednesday Tyler officials announced they would be increasing the number of samples taken per year to 300, which is above the state requirement.

Copyright 2016 KLTV. All rights reserved.

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