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Scare about lead in Menlo Park water due to a data glitch

Statistic in USA Today article raises questions about Menlo Park's lead safety

Concerns that Menlo Park could have elevated levels of lead in its water were raised March 16 when Menlo Park resident Vincent Bressler sent an email to City Manager Alex McIntyre to point out a startling statistic in a USA Today article.

According to the article, Menlo Park had 76.9 parts per billion of lead in its water supply, when the federal acceptable limit is only 15 parts per billion. That figure was an error, which came from a mistake in a state database, said Justin Murphy, city public works director. "The state database has now been corrected and the information reported to the EPA to reflect compliance," reported a citywide update.

The 76.9 number likely referred to the copper levels data in the city's 2015 consumer confidence report on its water supply, required by the federal government. That report showed there were 2 parts per billion of lead in the water (at 15 parts per billion, action is recommended) and 76.9 parts per billion of copper (at 1,300 parts per billion, action is recommended).

Lead contamination of the water supply is a major public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, where lead has been found in blood samples of children there. According to the Mayo Clinic, even low levels of lead exposure can cause damage over time, especially to children, because lead can impact brain development. It can also damage kidneys and the nervous system for children and adults.

Menlo Park's 2015 consumer confidence report, however, did contain a disconcerting error: two footnotes stated "38 site samples collected at consumer taps had concentrations above the action level" for both the copper and lead reports. When this was pointed out to City Manager Alex McIntyre, he said that the footnotes should say: "Zero of the 38 samples."

"We want to assure our Menlo Park Municipal Water District customers that the system meets all applicable State and Federal safe drinking water requirements," he said in an email.

The USA Today article claims that having a home built before 1980 creates a higher risk of having lead pipes. Menlo Park's main water pipes were installed in a period ranging from the 1950s to 2015, said Mr. Murphy. While none of the Menlo Park municipal water district's main lines are built with lead, Mr. Taylor said, some people may have lead pipes that link the main city pipes to their homes.

"It is possible the lead levels at your home may be higher than at others because of plumbing materials used in your property," stated the Menlo Park consumer confidence report. People who are concerned about lead in their water can have it tested by a private lab.

Go to tinyurl.com/lead342 for more information.

The report recommends minimizing the potential for lead exposure by "flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking." Rather than pouring unused water down a drain, the report encourages people to collect the water in a bucket to use to water plants and clean cars.

The next batch of water samples from 2015 has been collected for analysis and will be reported in the city's 2016 consumer confidence report, Mr. Murphy said.

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