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The Investigative Unit: Elevated lead levels found in East Feliciana water

7 years 2 months 2 days ago Thursday, March 16 2017 Mar 16, 2017 March 16, 2017 3:27 PM March 16, 2017 in The Investigative Unit
Source: WBRZ

SLAUGHTER – Louisiana is requiring the East Feliciana Parish Water System to test their water more frequently after an Investigative Unit report that showed brown water flowing from the taps two weeks ago.

Brown water was coming out of Slaughter resident Artis Cain's home for nearly 72 hours when the Investigative Unit got involved. When a sample was taken, we offered to water system leaders to take a sip of the water they were telling residents was safe to drink.

"No sir, I will not," Melissa Sanders, executive director of the water system, said when asked to take a sip herself.

The water sample taken from Cain's tap by The Investigative Unit was sent off to a state-approved lab for testing. The results from the sample showed elevated levels of lead.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency said lead has to be at 15 parts per billion or less. However, the sample taken from Cain's home had 25.6 parts per billion.

To put that number in perspective, in Flint, Michigan where there is currently an ongoing water crisis due to lead in the water, most homes there had lead levels at 27, similar to the sample taken from Cain's home.

Kevin Armbrust, the chairman of the Department of Environmental Sciences Department at LSU, said he is deeply troubled by the findings.

"The numbers speak for themselves. They are above the EPA guidelines, they are close to the numbers of Flint, Michigan, which would be a point of concern," Armbrust said.

Jimmy Guidry with the Department of Health says lead in water is concerning, especially for children.

"That's who we worry about. Children, six or under, who get lead levels, it affects their brain growth," Guidry said.

The EPA also has secondary guidelines for water. In addition to a high lead level, the water sample also showed there was 150 times the amount that is recommended for manganese and seven times more than the recommend level of iron.

Initially, the East Feliciana Water System blamed this issue on the fire department for hooking their hoses up to the fire hydrants. When The Investigative Unit showed up on Thursday, nearly all of the fire hydrants in the parish that are serviced by the East Feliciana Water System were covered up with black plastic bags and duct tape.

"Up here in East Feliciana. The hydrants you see up here are not for fire support whatsoever," Jason Head, the parish's operations manager, said.

Instead, Head said the hydrants are used for flushing only.

"Flushing, flushing. Not fire support," Head said.

During a visit with the parish water system, The Investigative Unit presented the findings from the water sample taken. Head said that during last year alone, there were at least 30 boil orders in the parish due to problems.

"That's state's requirements, for us to call them whenever a line is broken," Head said.

However, Head tried to shift the blame to The Investigative Unit for not sharing Cain's contact information to conduct a follow-up lead test at his home.

The state now says, following The Investigative Unit's reports, East Feliciana Water System will be required to test for lead every six months, while most water systems only have to test for lead every three years. A notification system will also be required if there are future problems.

Elevated lead levels were detected by state health leader in 2006 but levels were still below EPA recommendations. The state says the East Feliciana Water System has been in compliance with lead levels for the last four draws.

Meanwhile, Cain said that a lead testing kit was dropped off at his home on Thursday to see if health officials can replicate the sample taken from his home by The Investigative Unit.

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