Tests find potentially toxic levels of lead in some Steamboat drinking water | SteamboatToday.com

Tests find potentially toxic levels of lead in some Steamboat drinking water

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Potentially toxic levels of lead have been found in some people’s drinking water in Steamboat Springs.

The Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, which distributes water to the mountain resort area, sent out a notice to all of its bill-paying customers Monday regarding the contamination. According to the notice, the water the district produces and distributes is free of lead, but certain homes with lead pipes or plumbing have exceeded the state threshold.

The Sanitation District found out about the lead levels in July after its biannual testing period, according to General Manager Frank Alfone. The reason the notice did not come out until Monday, Alfone explained, is because he and other officials had to draft and distribute educational materials to all of its customers. According to regulations, the district had 60 days after getting the results to notify the public.

“It took a bit of coordination to get everything put together and ready to go,” Alfone said.

The homes that are at the greatest risk of lead contamination are those built between 1981 and 1987, according to Alfone. Officials are unsure how many homes have lead-contaminated water, and Alfone said they aren’t isolated to one specific area. His district is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to identify those homes and conduct additional testing.

The water district’s service area lies within the Steamboat city limits, generally south of Anglers Drive and Fish Creek.


Lead is most common in pipes and other plumbing systems installed before 1986, at which time laws banned the use of the heavy metal in such materials. Over time, these pipes and other plumbing systems corrode and cause lead to enter drinking water. 

Even ostensibly “lead-free” materials can contain some degree of lead. The law allows end-use brass fixtures, such as faucets, to have up to 8% lead. Plumbing fixtures certified with the National Sanitation Foundation may have up to 2% lead. 

There is no “safe” amount of lead a human can consume, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It can be harmful even at low levels, and it can accumulate in the body over time. If the amount of lead in drinking water exceeds 15 parts per billion — the equivalent of one drop of paint in 13,000 gallons of water — experts recommend taking action to reduce the prevalence of the heavy metal.

How to reduce lead exposure in drinking water
  1. Run your water to flush out lead. If it hasn’t been used for several hours, run the cold water tap until the temperature is noticeably colder. This flushes lead-containing water from the pipes. To conserve water, remember to catch the flushed tap water for plants or some other household use (e.g. cleaning).
  2. Always use cold water for drinking, cooking and preparing baby formula. Never cook with or drink water from the hot water tap. Never use water from the hot water tap to make formula.
  3. Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
  4. Periodically remove and clean the faucet’s strainer/aerator. While removed, run the water to remove debris.
  5. You may consider investing in a home water treatment device or alternative water source. When purchasing a water treatment device, make sure it is certified under Standard 53 by the National Sanitation Foundation  to remove lead. Contact National Sanitation Foundation at 1-800-NSF-8010 or visit nsf.org. You may also visit the Water Quality Association’s website at wqa.org.
  6. Test your water for lead. Call  970-879-2424 to find out how to get your water tested for lead. A list of certified laboratories is listed at colorado.gov/cdphe/laboratory-certification-program.
  7. Get your child’s blood tested. Contact your local health department or health care provider to find out how you can get your child tested for lead if you are concerned about exposure.
  8. Identify and replace plumbing fixtures containing lead. Identify and replace plumbing fixtures containing lead. Brass faucets, fittings, and valves, including those advertised as “lead-free,” may leach lead into drinking water. The National Sanitation Foundation website at nsf.org has more information on lead-containing plumbing fixtures. You should use only lead-certified contractors.
  9. Have a licensed electrician check your wiring. If grounding wires from the electrical system are attached to your pipes, corrosion may be greater. Check with a licensed electrician or your local electric code to determine if your wiring can be grounded elsewhere. DO NOT attempt to change the wiring yourself because improper grounding can cause electrical shock and fire hazards.

*Source: Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District

Lead is particularly hazardous to children, pregnant women and people with kidney problems or high blood pressure.

In children, low levels of lead exposure can damage the central and peripheral nervous system, according to the EPA. It also can cause learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing and impaired formation and function of blood cells. In pregnant women, lead exposure can harm fetal development and lead to premature births.

The Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District is working with the state health department to conduct a study aimed at reducing corrosion in homes with lead fixtures or plumbing. The homes eligible for the study are those built between 1981 and 1987.

“It will help us potentially identify what we can do as a district at this treatment plant to reduce the likelihood of lead getting into the water when it enters those homes,” Alfone said of the study.

Residents who want officials to evaluate their home for participation in the testing should contact the Sanitation District at 970-879-2424. 

Those who do not qualify can conduct testing at their own expense. Multiple laboratories offer such testing. People can contact ACZ Labs in Steamboat at 970-879-6590. They also can contact ACCUTEST Laboratories in Wheat Ridge at 303-425-6021.

Residents with questions or concerns about the quality of their drinking water should contact the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District at 970-879-2424. For more information on lead in drinking water, visit colorado.gov/cdphe/lead-drinking-water

To download the full notice from the Sanitation District, click the following link or, for print readers, view the online version of this article.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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