Bob Downing

Lead in Akronís drinking water is not a problem but it is a concern, said Willie Smith of East Akron.

ďThis is ugly. This is ugly,Ē he said of the lead risk in Akron. ďItís troubling. Iím not surprised at all. Akron has a lot of older homes and thatís where these problems are most often found. Ö Itís something Iím really concerned about.Ē

Smith said he learned last summer while having repairs to his water line that the line to his Chittenden Street home contained lead.

He runs his tap water before using it to flush potentially lead-laced water from the lines as an extra precaution, but that can hike his water and sewer bills, Smith said.

That threat from lead leaching into drinking water from lead pipes, lead solder used on copper pipes and brass faucets is something that residents should be aware of and keep an eye on, particularly with the recent problems in Flint, Mich., and Sebring, Ohio, he said.

Lead is a serious health threat to infants, children and pregnant women.

But Akronís water is safe and complies with lead limits under the federal Clean Drinking Water Act, said Jeff Bronowski, Akron Water Supply Bureau manager. Tests show no evidence of a lead problem.

Smith is among 4,336 residential and business water customers in Akron who have lead services or lead water lines leading into homes for which the city is responsible.

Those customers are found throughout Akron but there are clusters in North Hill, Goodyear Heights, Firestone Park, West Akron and Fairlawn Heights.

In addition, there are an unknown number of Akron water customers ó perhaps numbering in the thousands ó with pre-1986 copper pipes and lead solder connecting city water lines to homes that are the responsibility of the homeowner.

The two groups are the water customers most at risk.

The cityís Law Department declined to release a map or the addresses where the 4,336 connections are found because of privacy concerns.

Akron intends to mail letters soon to those 4,336 water customers to inform them of the lead connections and to outline testing options that are available, Bronowski said.

Akron will also provide a free lead-testing kit to any water customer requesting one. The city will drop off the kit. Residents can follow the directions and return the sample to the city for free analysis.

The city has 84,000 active water customers.

Most Akron water customers with lead connections get water with low but acceptable levels of lead under federal safety standards. The system serves 300,000 people in Akron and surrounding communities with 35 million gallons of water per day.

Akron officials say they are confident that Akronís water is lead free when it leaves the cityís water treatment plant in Portage County. Akron adds a corrosion control chemical, zinc orthophosphate, to keep lead from leaching into drinking water within the distribution system. That is the cityís main weapon against lead, and tests show that is working, Bronowski said.

Bronowski said lead connections for which the city is responsible affect only 5.2 percent of Akronís water customers.

That is a low percentage compared to figures from Chicago, Dayton, Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky and the St. Paul region, based on an Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies survey last August. The percentage of such connections in Chicago is 78 percent; in Dayton, it is 67 percent.

Akron previously had estimated nearly 6,300 customers had such water lines. But that total includes connections to vacant houses and empty lots, Bronowski said.

Akronís water lines are cast iron or ductile iron, not lead. The lines do have some leaded joints that were added pre-1969.

Getting rid of the cityís share of the lead pipes leading toward houses would cost about $20 million, and Akron has been slowly eliminating such connections when water lines are replaced, Bronowski said.

He said the city is responsible for about 30 feet from the main water line under the street to under the devil strip to the inside edge of the sidewalk where turnoff valves are located. The home builders/homeowners are responsible for the rest of those lines leading into houses and businesses.

The city is responsible for providing drinking water to customers but doesnít control all the materials used in plumbing and running waterlines into houses.

Very few Akron water customers have lead connections on private property, Bronowski said. But copper lines with lead solder are fairly common. Such lead-solder connections were banned in 1986.

Akron has complied with federal lead limits on tests conducted every three years.

Tests on 50 at-risk houses a year showed that all Akron samples met federal lead limits in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012.

There were two 2015 samples at levels above federal limits, but both appear to be a result of homeowners not properly following test procedures, Bronowski said. The two houses are being re-tested.

The federal lead limit is 15 parts per billion.

The top 10 percent of lead samples are thrown out. Akron then takes the test result that falls at the 90th percentile and it must be under the federal lead limit.

In 2015, the 90th percentile was 9.70 parts per billion. In 2012, it was 4.5 parts per billion.

The average lead level among the 50 samples in 2015 was 5.18 parts per billion.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.