The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has found elevated levels of lead in two samples of the Edgartown water supply, a violation of state clean drinking water standards.
The violation forces the Edgartown water department to perform additional testing on the public water supply and to inform the public of the violation. An advertisement alerting residents to the violation and paid for by the town appears in today's edition of the Gazette.
The testing, conducted on one day last August, found that two samples of water contained lead levels above the state standard. The maximum level of lead allowed under state law is .015 parts per million. One of the two samples had a lead content of .052 parts per million, while the other sample had 2.0 parts per million.
Such a violation normally requires a town or city to install corrosion control treatment, which helps prevent lead in the pipes from leaching into the water. But corrosion control already had been installed in the town water system in 1960, and modified in 1993.
High levels of lead pose health dangers and can result in delays in physical and mental development for infants and children. Adults who drink water with high levels of lead over many years can develop kidney problems or high blood pressure. All of the water samples submitted to the DEP were collected by employees of the town water department.
Edgartown water officials, however, are assuring the public that the town drinking water poses no health risk to residents. In fact, many officials are upset with the DEP, and have argued that the samples that violated the standard were taken in error and should be invalidated.
Water superintendent Fred Domont said yesterday that one of the samples was taken at an unapproved state sampling location on Clevelandtown Road, from the outside faucet of an unoccupied 100-year-old home. The other sample with a high lead content, while taken from an approved site on Saddle Club road, also was drawn from an unoccupied home's outside faucet. Both samples were taken by an employee of the town water department.
Mr. Domont said the samples do not accurately reflect the water quality in Edgartown. Standing water in the pipes of unoccupied homes often has higher lead content than water from an occupied home, he said.
"It's really a matter of common sense. If the water just sits there in the pipes, it is going to have a higher content of lead than usual. The samples were taken in error from these two sites, and it's frustrating the state doesn't recognize that," said Mr. Domont.
Mr. Domont said follow-up samples that were correctly taken from a kitchen faucet at the same home on Clevelandtown Road, and another from a kitchen faucet at a home on Robin's Nest Road, near Saddle Club Road, revealed non-detectable traces of lead.
After collecting the results of the follow-up samples, Mr. Domont wrote a letter to the water quality division of the DEP and requested the initial samples be invalidated.
Mr. Domont said he did not hear back from the DEP for several months, and assumed his request had been received and processed.
Then in March of this year, Mr. Domont received a letter from David A. DeLorenzo of the Bureau of Resource Protection of the DEP that changed the schedule of water quality testing for the town. The new schedule calls for the town to collect 60 water samples twice a year. Under the old system, the town was allowed to collect only 10 samples every three years. The reduced schedule was based on Edgartown's year-round population of 2,500, which put the town in the category of a small operating system, requiring a less stringent regimen of water testing.
"[The] approval issued by the department for lead and copper sampling at a reduced frequency or reduced number of sampling locations is hereby revoked," Mr. DeLorenzo stated in the March 22 letter.
The DEP decision represents a reversal of a policy dating back to 1993, when Mr. Domont first took over as water superintendent. At the time, the DEP classified Edgartown as a medium-sized water system that required more stringent testing. But Mr. Domont successfully argued that the classification was inaccurately based on the town's summer population, which swells to more than 14,000 people.
Mr. Domont said additional testing needlessly costs the town thousands of dollars.
After receiving the March letter outlining the new sampling schedule, Mr. Domont exchanged a series of letters with the DEP, urging the agency to reverse its decision and allow the town to remain on the same schedule of water testing that it has followed for more than a decade. But so far the DEP has stood behind its decision.
In a May 4 letter to David Terry, the director of the drinking water program at DEP, Mr. Domont expressed his "extreme displeasure with the inconsistent interpretation of regulation by the Department of Environmental Protection, primarily with respect to water system classification."
"The Edgartown Water Department does not generate sufficient revenue to finance medium or large system requirements," Mr. Domont also wrote.
Mr. Terry responded with a letter stating the DEP requires all community water systems with seasonal variation to base their sampling on the higher population figures.
Mr. Domont then wrote the DEP again to argue the two samples were invalid, and Mr. Terry responded with a letter upholding the agency's former decision. Mr. Terry said the letter should mark the formal beginning of the new sampling policy, which among other things requires the department to inform the public of the violation.
The water department's advertisement in today's Gazette provides residents with steps they can take to reduce their exposure to lead. "This is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been contacted immediately. Corrosion control is in place," the advertisement states in part.
"The last thing we want is people to think they can't drink the water. The water is totally safe to drink. It seems to me the Department of Environmental Protection is more focused on enforcement than they are with cooperation and solving the problem," Mr. Domont said.
Robert L. Burnham, chairman of the water commission, agreed that all tests indicate the drinking water is safe. He said the DEP notice of violation and subsequent decision not to invalidate the samples created an unfair hardship for the town.
"I just don't understand why they wouldn't listen to the facts. It seems their decision could unfairly alarm people when there is nothing wrong with the water," Mr. Burnham said.
Water commissioner John S. Lovewell agreed.
"It's ridiculous, really. I don't know why the state won't listen to reason," he said.