BENTON TOWNSHIP — The Berrien County Health Department distributed around 50 water filter kits to Eau Claire residents this week, after a high level of lead was found in one home, the Board of Health learned Wednesday. Filters are still available to qualified residences.
The alert and filter give-away, for homes with children and pregnant women, was triggered after the water system at one of nine homes tested exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan regulatory action level for lead. When at least 10 percent of the samples tested exceed the action level for lead in drinking water, at 15 parts per billion, public health officials recommend precautionary actions to protect residents from potential lead exposure while further water testing is ongoing.
That's the law "and we are compelled to follow the law," Health Office Nicki Britten told board members.
Eau Claire does not have lead fixtures in its water mains or service lines, and officials expect that this is an isolated incident.
Health department staff offered the filters last Friday and again on Tuesday. Courtney Davis, deputy health officer, said most people who came to the village hall last week were seeking information, and this week more of the filters were provided.
The filters were provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Britten said, and the village will pay for ongoing water testing.
Dr. Rick Johansen, medical director of the health department, attributed the state response to the "Flint factor" of acting with an abundance of caution following that city's lead-tainted water crisis.
Letters were sent home with all school children, explaining the situation to parents and informing then that the health department is working with the district as well as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to test for lead in drinking water inside the Eau Claire schools as soon as possible.
The district already uses filters on all its drinking fountains.
In homes with children or pregnant women, the health department recommends using only cold-filtered, or bottled, water for drinking, rinsing food, cooking, mixing powdered infant formula, and brushing teeth.
Other ways to reduce the amount of lead in drinking water include:
• Run water for 30 seconds to two minutes to flush out lead after it has been sitting stagnant for 6 hours or more.
• Clean faucet aerators, which can trap small pieces of lead.
• Use only cold water for drinking or cooking; lead dissolves more easily in hot water, so do not try to remove lead by boiling the water.
• Identify older plumbing fixtures that likely contain lead.
The county health department has provided more than $200,000 worth of filters in Benton Harbor after lead was detected there, in scattered private residences due to outdated plumbing.
Residents with questions are encouraged to call the Berrien County Health Department Water Response Hotline at 1-800-815-5485. More information regarding lead in drinking water and your health can be found at www.eauclairemi.com or www.bchdmi.org or Michigan.gov/MiLeadSafe.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak