DOWAGIAC, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Dowagiac is giving out certified lead filters after a reevaluation of the city’s drinking water found lead levels that exceed state standards.
After a recent review by the Environmental Protection Agency and then a follow-up investigation by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the city said it found four of the 21 sampled homes between June and September 2022 did not meet the site selection criteria in the Safe Drinking Water Act.
When it tested samples collected from the 17 remaining homes, the 90th percentile of tested homes came to 17 parts per billion, above the EGLE’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion.
“15 parts per billion is that amount and we tested for 17 parts per billion,” explained Dowagiac City Manager Kevin Anderson.
He said the problem is not with the city’s water source.
“What comes out of the plant does not have lead in it. As it goes through the pipes, it does not have lead,” Anderson said. “Where we have some incidents are when it comes through those lead service leads and then lead inside the house.”
The city explained that water may pick up lead from lead pipes, solder, plumbing and fittings. That means that the more time water sits in the pipes, the more lead it may leach. It said that if the water has been sitting for a few hours, you can help flush the lead by running the water before using it. People whose homes have lead service lines should run the water for at least five minutes. People without lead service lines need only run the water for between 30 seconds and two minutes, or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature.
Exceeding the action level means the city will roll out more educational outreach, increase sampling and replace lead service lines.
“The goal is to continue to replace those (lead service lines) and hopefully at an escalated pace,” City Manager Kevin Anderson said. “So we will be going back to the state of Michigan to try to get some additional funding support.”
The city stressed that the action level is meant to measure the effectiveness of corrosion control and that it’s not a health standard.
“The goal for lead in drinking water is 0 ppb,” it wrote, “there is no safe level of lead in the blood.”
If you live in Dowagiac, the city said you should install a certified lead filter. If a child under 18 or a pregnant person lives in the home enrolled in Medicaid, you can get a free one through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The city will give out one filter per household served by its water utility for those who do not qualify for a free MDHHS filter. You can pick one out at the Dowagiac City Hall between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14 or the Van Buren-Cass District Health Department 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Friday.
Monday, residents lined up outside of Dowagiac City Hall to receive a free water filter.
“I want to make sure there’s no issues, drinking water with lead is probably not very healthy,” said Dowagiac resident Alec Saylor.
“It was surprising, I didn’t hear about it until this morning when my sister called me from Missouri to tell me about it,” said resident Patricia Farrow. “I want to make sure I’m drinking clear good, not lead-filled water.”
Anderson says 2023 samples have shown better results but the city will continue to do increased water sampling and educational outreach.
“We did not just want to say this is a one-time, unusual thing. We recognize that lead levels are a concern and regulatory pieces around it, and that those regulations are going to get tighter and tighter,” Anderson said.
If you don’t know whether your home has a lead service line, check to find out. You can reach out to the city at 269.782.2195 for a service line inspection or to learn about getting your water tested.
The state has information online about how businesses can mitigate lead.
It’s important to remember that unlike with a bacterial problem, boiling your water will not clear the lead from your water.
—News 8’s Demetrios Sanders contributed to this report.