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State official sees changes ahead on lead water pipes

PIERRE -- The danger in Flint, Michigan, is leading toward many potential changes throughout the nation regarding lead and copper plumbing for drinking water, an official for the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources said T...

PIERRE - The danger in Flint, Michigan, is leading toward many potential changes throughout the nation regarding lead and copper plumbing for drinking water, an official for the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Thursday.

The difficulty in the current process is citizens conduct the complex testing and report the results, according to Mark Mayer, the administrator for the agency's drinking water program. He provided an overview for the state Water Management Board.

Mayer said there are discussions at the national level about changing to a simpler approach if it would be more reliable.

The problem isn't the water, according to Mayer. It's the pipes that carry it. He said lead pipes corrode, causing the metal to leach into the drinking water.

There is no safe level of lead.

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"It's happening out in the distribution system. It's very challenging," Mayer said.

Twenty-three South Dakota water systems use a corrosion control treatment to offset the threat of lead leaching into their drinking supply.

Doland had stopped using its corrosion control at some unknown time. The community in Spink County started again in January. Mayer said all of South Dakota now is in compliance.

South Dakota was one of three states with one system that was out of compliance, Mayer said.

"Overall, I think we're in pretty good shape," he said.

But, he noted Michigan has some 10,000 systems to oversee, while South Dakota has about 600.

The Flint situation is stirring talk about national efforts to "get the lead out" by replacing pipes in community water systems and in people's residences. One challenge is determining the type of underground line between the community system and the plumbing in the house.

"That will take time," Mayer said. "This is something nobody is going to fix in five years. It may take 20 (years)."

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He noted that real estate listings probably would increasingly tell whether a home's water system has been tested for safety, similar to radon, which federal regulators describe as a naturally occurring gas that is linked to lung cancer.

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