Our view: Contaminated water needs closer look

originally posted on April 3, 2016


Residents in the rural southern Nevada town of Goodsprings have been drinking lead-contaminated water at their community center.

Testing on the water was done in September and confirmed no later than February, but it was not until a recent report by the RGJ’s Jason Hidalgo that anyone decided to test the students at the adjacent school for lead exposure.

The data was obtained by the RGJ through a public records request to the state of Nevada. This is just the latest such request to spur government officials into action. Another recent example was RGJ reporter Anjeanette Damon’s look into squalid conditions at Reno-Sparks assisted living homes that prompted the state to immediately inspect group homes for the mentally ill.

While no public water systems in Washoe County were found to have lead problems, other contaminants came up.

• The Mount Rose Bowl Homeowners Association had noncompliant levels of copper.

• The Silver Knolls Mutual Water Co. had noncompliant levels of arsenic.

• And the Rosemont Water Co. had noncompliant levels of uranium.

Additional scrutiny on these systems — and perhaps of the people who have used water there — is warranted. The Washoe County Health District should weigh in on how much scrutiny.

Even those who had no contact with those public water systems should pay attention

The Truckee Meadows Water Authority’s system serving most Reno-Sparks residents was EPA compliant, but the safety examinations looked only at water in public pipes. Once that water goes into a private home, it can become contaminated. For example, buildings constructed before 1989 may have lead solder on pipes.

Contaminants can reach excessive levels when water has been sitting in pipes for extended periods. Despite drought concerns, experts recommend letting water run for a while first thing in the morning or after getting back from vacation, especially if living in an older home.

Also, hundreds of Washoe County residents live on properties with private wells, which were not covered in the testing. They should seriously consider doing their own.

A number of local companies do water analysis, and tests that people can conduct themselves are available online and at home improvement stores.

In Goodsprings, 38 miles south of Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Health District is offering to test the blood of anyone who drank the community center’s water. For those who test positive for lead, it will do a free analysis of water in their homes.

Even more widespread testing may be necessary if examination shows the community center’s old pipes are not the sole source of lead. That region has a history of lead mining, and it would not be a surprise if private wells — the area’s main source of water — also have elevated lead levels.

The RGJ’s joint investigation with the USA Today Network of water quality revealed 23 non-compliant water systems in Nevada. The larger water systems did not show contamination problems. This is good news.

But local health agencies in areas where problems were discovered — such as Marigold Mine Potable Water System in Humboldt County and the Fort Churchill Power Plant in Lyon County, both of which had too much lead — should step up to address concerns.

Nevadans near noncompliant water systems deserve more information to help them understand if they should have their blood tested or if their home wells are at a higher risk for contaminants.

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