Should residents be warned of lead pipes in buildings?

Yellow highlighted areas represent lead service lines in the Allston/Brighton area. (Photo courtesy of Boston Water and Sewer Commission)

By Lexi Peery
BU News Service

JAMAICA PLAIN — Maureo Fernandez y Mora works full-time as a drinking water advocate at Clean Water Action. He spends most of his day educating town and city officials about lead pipes that may be in their vicinity. Fernandez y Mora then helps officials take steps to fixing their lead service lines.

But Fernandez y Mora doesn’t even know if his Jamaica Plain apartment has lead pipes.

“When I go home the last thing I want to think about is lead in drinking water, which is no excuse,” Fernandez y Mora said.

The Environmental Protection Agency limits lead levels to 15 parts per billion in drinking water. However, the World Health Organization says no amount of lead is safe in drinking water.

The effects of lead exposure from water is most often seen in children and pregnant women. Lead exposure can affect the development of children and babies. It’s very harmful for fetuses and through the first few years of a child’s life, since no amount of lead is safe for infants, according to Healthy Babies Bright Futures.

When it comes to adults, lead can cause high blood pressure, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems, according to the EPA. Lead toxicity targets the nervous system, which can lead to these varied effects.

Lead pipes can cause these health problems, however, there are preventative steps people can take to mitigate the amount of lead that may be in their water. When water sits in service lines for several hours, lead from solders or pipes can leach into the water.

Boston Water and Sewer Commission spokesperson, Tom Bagley said for people who have lead pipes, most of the time, all it takes is running the water for 30 seconds to a minute to flush out a majority of the lead.

However, ultimately the best way to prevent lead exposure is replacing lead pipes, Fernandez y Mora said.

“[Cities] would reduce lead contamination and [cities] can reduce overall risk if [they] take the initiative to take out those lead service lines and replace them,” Fernandez y Mora said.

Oftentimes, people are unaware that there are lead service lines that connect their homes to the main city service line. Bagley said the city’s waterlines are made of caste iron. That means the public service lines are lead free — but service lines on properties may be made of lead or have lead soldering.

Yellow highlighted areas represent lead service lines in the Back Bay area. On Bay State Road, there are two Boston University residences with lead service lines, according to this map. (Photo courtesy of Boston Water and Sewer Commission)

In a map released by the City’s Water and Sewer Commission, buildings with lead service lines are marked in yellow. Bay State Road has rows of on-campus Boston University housing. Scattered along the street are a few buildings outlined in yellow.

Many residents walking in and out of one of the highlighted buildings didn’t know that there were lead service lines into their dorm room.

Students living at 195-197 Bay State Road have lead service lines, but residents said they mostly use water for brushing teeth and showering. However, many students fill up their water bottles from the sinks in the bathrooms. Some residents mentioned using Brita filters for their water, but the Brita website states only Brita Faucet Systems and Brita Longlast Filters take out 99 percent of the lead.

Audrey Kim is a resident of 195-197 Bay State Road and uses the bathroom faucets, and a Brita filter, to drink the water. Kim said she had no idea there were lead service lines to her building.

“It’s a little concerning, lead [piping] is somewhat outdated in buildings now. I think BU should have let us know,” Kim, a junior at BU, said. “I’m not sure where to even go talk to go to talk about this, I can mention it to my RA or something, other than that I’m not really sure who to bring this to.”

The spokesperson for Boston University did not respond to comment about the lead service lines for these on-campus residences.

It comes down to the landlord, according to Bagley, to inform residents if there are lead service lines in a home. That way the residents can take measures to lessen the impact of lead in their drinking water.

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