BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — When is the last time you stopped to think about what’s really coming out of your faucet? How good is your water?
Sure, the crisis in Flint raised real concerns, but most Western New Yorkers don’t question what comes out of their tap. We either drink our tap water, or we shell out big bucks to buy bottled.
News 4 Investigates went in-depth in February, even testing water samples for lead.
LEARN MORE | Read and watch our original story.
We heard from dozens of you, and we want to do our best to answer your continued questions.
Question: How do you locate lead lines?
On a recent sunny spring day, we watched workers from T-Mark Plumbing dig in a North Buffalo neighborhood.
They responded to a homeowner’s call for help. The resident could hear water running, but the leak wasn’t visible.
“98% of the replacements are going to be because of leaks,” Ryan Miller of T-Mark Plumbing told News 4. “Either the city will come out and let you know there’s a leak, or in the home you can hear water gurgling,” he explained.
The water mains are fine. It’s the old service lines that run from the mains to your house that may be lead. And finding those lead lines can be tough.
“Those records are very incomplete,” Erie County Water Authority Chair Earl Jann, Jr. admitted. “If someone were to call into our customer service people and say, do i have a lead service line, it would be pretty spotty whether I could tell them that,” Jann said.
Workers are left to simply dig.
Miller thanks more than half the homes in Buffalo still have lead service lines. He admits that’s a rough estimate based on his service calls.
Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak reiterates lead service lines alone should not cause panic.
“There’s things that you have to do treat. There’s household testing that’s done as well through the city of Buffalo, but the phosphates help minimize any corrosion.”
Buffalo spokesperson Mike DeGeorge said it’s not known if half the homes in the city truly have lead lines.
“As city officials have said in the past, there is lead present in service lines and that’s why a solid treatment program has been in place that includes utilizing ortho-polyphosphate to prevent corrosion and ensure the water is safe to drink from the tap,” DeGeorge said.
Question: Who pays for lead line replacement?
That answer varies depending where you live.
In suburbs and muncipalities served by the Erie County Water Authority (ECWA), workers will replace lead service lines that run from the water main to your cutoff valve (typically in your front yard.) The lead service line running from the cutoff valve to your house would be your responsibility.
In Buffalo property owners pay to replace the entire lead service line, from the water main, all the way to the house.
Lead service line replacement generally exceeds $2,500.
Question: What happens when untreated sewage goes into the lake during heavy rains? Does that affect the treatment process?
Earl Jann: “We are very very aware of any potential problems that can occur in the lake such as higher degrees of bacteria or any other types of affluence, so that water is tested before it comes into our system. As the water is drawn in, we will pre-treat to make sure that we have corrected for any higher levels of bacteria. We are constantly measuring the levels of bacteria throughout the process at the plant to make sure that none of that reaches our consumers.”
Question: What causes discoloration in the water?
Jann: “Occasionally, that can happen if a municipality doesn’t flush their lines routinely, which is what they need to do.”
Question: What do you tell people who live in say an apartment building from the turn of the century? Are galvanized pipes cause for concern?
Jann: “Galvanized pipes get get a formation of material inside the pipe. The area the water goes through, gets to be very fine. You get all kinds of a build-up inside. Is it unsafe to drink? No, but eventually they break. They leak.”
Question: How do you regulate the fluoride that’s added, and how safe is it?
Jann: “The CDC has taken the position that the addition of fluoride to the water supply was one of the top health benefits of the 20th century because it not only reduces tooth decay to an extreme degree… [but because] it can can have a significant overall health effect – fewer cavities. We’re fully aware of the studies that have come out about fluoride and the questions about them, and people are monitoring them.”
The New York State Department of Health in 2015 lowered the fluoride guideline from 1 part per million (PPM) to 0.7 PPM. Lake Erie naturally has about 0.2 PPM, so the Erie County Water Authority adds the remaining 0.5 PPM.
Question: How does the industry along the Niagara River impact the water treatment?
Jann says it has a minimal impact. “Actually the water in the river, because of the rapid flow over the bedrock, is cleaner than the water from the lake. The water that comes in from the lake has a lot of sand – and mud coming in – much more so than you do from the water that comes from the river,” he said.
Question: Do reverse osmosis systems help the water at all? Is it worth it?
Jann: “No, not really. What it does is it takes all of the minerals out of the water and makes it very corrosive to metal. You have to have plastic pipes to use that type of system, so if you had an old house and old pipes, that’s the last thing you want to do.”
Question: When should lead service lines be replaced?
Ryan Miller (T-Mark Plumbing): “It’s a tough one. I’m not going to say everyone just call us and replace their lead line. More and more of the lines are needing to be replaced, so if it’s a place you’re going to stay for awhile, you’re certainly doing yourself a favor by getting it done before you’ve got a larger problem on your hands.”
Miller rarely replaces a lead line simply because someone is concerned.
Question: How do you identify the types of pipes in your house?
– Find where your piping enters your home, and then scratch it.
– Copper: the scratched area will have the look of a copper penny.
– Galvanized steel: the scratched area will be a silver-gray color and have threads.
– Plastic: usually white in color and you will be able to see a clamp where it is joined to the water supply piping.
Question: How do you test your own water?
If you’re a customer of the Buffalo Water Authority, you may call 3-1-1 and inquire about the city testing your water.
The ECWA says you can always report water problems to them, but they suggest you hire an outside company for testing. Most companies charge around $50 per sample.
Have a question or a specific concern about your water? Email News 4’s Jordan Williams.