Demand, and seek, water and soil testing

March 1, 2016

Life in a modern, first-world country brings with it certain expectations. One is the belief that when we turn on the faucet for water, the fluid coming out won't poison us or our children. While local tap water might not be as pure and refreshing as that imported from pristine, mountain springs, nobody should expect a glass of lead-saturated water from their kitchen sink. But those expectations were lowered in light of Flint's water system fiasco.

Of course, it didn't take long for regional officials with the Great Lakes Water Authority and local communities to speak to concerns about their customers' water quality. All is safe in the system's affluent communities. But such statements are no reason for residents in the Rochester/Rochester Hills communities to hold to a false sense of security. Indeed, sources of lead contamination can be found inside local homes and backyards.

State blood lead level testing has already shown some neighborhoods in Detroit and other areas of the state with levels higher than those tested in Flint. While those findings aren't attributed to water contamination, they do illustrate the real threat of lead exposure from other sources. In suburban communities, the main sources of lead exposure typically come from lead-based paint inside and outside older homes; from some toys; and soil contaminated from exterior paint and older lead-based gasoline vehicle emissions. 

A 2003 study of random soil samples in Rochester Hills found at least one location with lead contamination twice as high as that which would be of concern to the EPA. Yet, there's no regular testing of ground soils by government agencies.

An even greater threat for lead contamination is commonly found in homes constructed before 1978, when interior lead-based paints were banned from use. Most homeowners and renters should be wary of paint chips and peeling or flaking paint in older homes. Certified inspectors test hundreds of items in a home when checking for potential sources of lead. Gardeners should check their soil for possible contaminants.

We feel that residents who suspect that lead, or other contaminants, could be present on their properties should seek the services of a certified inspector, not only when acquiring a property, but at any point if one hasn't been done. While Oakland County doesn't have a home ordinance requiring lead inspections, nor does the state, there are resources available through the state's Safe Homes program for those in need. Oakland County's health department also may assist with home repairs to remove lead paint hazards.

We also believe local school districts, which regularly test school water sources for lead contamination, should provide those results to the public on a regular basis. Considering districts already conduct hundreds of tests each year, we see no reason not to make such records readily available, as local municipalities do.

State and local government agencies may also take steps to better inform and protect the public. We have unfortunately learned that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has taken a minimalist approach to water quality. As we have all learned from the Flint disaster, we must each be our own advocates, demanding inquiries into what toxins could be in not only our water, but our soil and our homes, to protect our families.

In a perfect world, our expectation of government ensuring the public's safety would be met. Unfortunately, reality does not often meet those expectations. We must take control of each of our own family's safety, and demand water and soil testing on our own properties.

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