Denver Water is replacing decades-old toxic lead pipes faster than expected

Denver Water pipeline/lead man Miguel Zarco ...

Tens of thousands of Denver residents drink, bathe in and cook with water that comes in through lead service lines.

Denver Water crews are moving as fast as a public utility that serves 1.5 million homes can to replace the lead pipes and solder before the soft, toxic metal leeches too much and gradually poisons the people inside.

It’s an estimated $500 million undertaking for up to 84,000 homes and one that won’t be finished until well into next decade. But, so far, state health officials say the replacement program is going well, moving faster than required and that lead levels have decreased in homes with the service lines since it began.

Denver Water’s reports don’t however say which neighborhoods were targeted first for the replacement program, and federal state health officials wouldn’t release address-specific data collected from the utility.

The program isn’t moving fast enough for Laura O’Brien, who said utility officials replaced service lines all around her Chaffee Park home but skipped her street. She first expressed concern in late 2019 after blood tests showed elevated levels of lead in her then-two-year-old son. She drank unfiltered water while she was pregnant and made formula with it.

While residents like O’Brien wait for crews to replace their lead service lines, the utility is balancing water acidity to lessen the amount of the metal that breaks off of lines that can wind up in tap water. More than 100,000 homes also received water pitchers and filters last year, and Denver Water will mail even more out every six months until lines are replaced.

O’Brien said she was frustrated when her home was passed over, but has since come to terms that it will be some time until it’s her time.

“Basically I’ve just accepted that I’m going to be using a filter,” O’Brien said.

Eric Lutzens, The Denver PostDenver Water pipeline/lead man Miguel Zarco tosses an old lead water line up onto the grass from the bottom of a hole. The Denver Water crew replaced an old water meter, main water tap and 1927 lead line leading to a house in the 1400 block of Eudora St. in Denver on Thursday, June 10, 2021.Why did we use lead?

Lead: It’s soft, malleable, not too hard to find, not too expensive, holds up well under duress and has been used to carry water for millennia. Even the word “plumbing” is derived from the Latin word for lead — plumbum.

Historians also theorize the metal poisoned ancient Romans just as a few years ago it poisoned Americans in Flint, Michigan.

“We didn’t know lead was a problem for a long time,” said Glenn Patterson, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus.

Scientists even found elevated lead levels in a lock of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair, which could explain some of his deafness, irritability, gastrointestinal problems and awkward gait, Patterson said.

Scientists didn’t pay much attention to the connection between drinking water and public health until a cholera epidemic in Europe in the …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Politics


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