An insert that arrived in Albany homeowners' mailboxes with the annual water bill caused some concern about lead.
The city of Albany has 317 miles of water pipes, some of which are more than 135 years old, necessitating occasional repairs and upgrades to guarantee the delivery of clean water and removal of waste and storm water.
Albany Water Commissioner Joe Coffey says Alcove Reservoir, in place since 1929, is one of the best municipal water supply sources in the Northeast.
But some houses in the city are served by old lead lines.
"As we started sending our water bills out this year, we included an insert that was really an effort by us to try to get a census from who of our customers have led water pipes in the city, we have a pretty good idea that most of the homes built before 1940 are likely to be have constructed with lead water services unless they've been replaced, subsequent to when they were built. And an effort to do that, it just helps us get a little bit of feedback and awareness of our customers about their water service. And we can start to populate a map on our GIS of where these like water services are likely most concentrated."
The letter sparked some concern after a resident posted some of the content on social media, which led other residents to question the safety of water flowing into their homes. Coffey says it’s not too difficult to check your plumbing.
"The insert that we sent has a diagram (and it's also on our website) that has the difference in how you distinguish between a lead water service pipe, a copper pipe and a galvanized pipe. You know, the lead is a little softer material, a magnet wouldn't stick to it. And when you kind of scratch it would have this shiny surface. Copper has its own distinctive qualities and as the galvanized would as well. And we also have that on our website is sometimes it's hard to describe in words, I think it's more of a visual and if people go on our website, Albanyny.gov and navigate to the water department, there is a segment on that, a little link that has the how you identify your your water service and identify whether it's lead or not."
Coffey says the "high-quality" water that comes from the Alcove Reservoir is filtered.
" And we also as part of corrosion control, we add hydrated lime among chemicals to the water to raise the pH to a point where it actually with the alignment of water it'll deposit the calcium is deposits a thin film on the inside of the on the insides of pipes. It's not discernible to the naked eye. But what it does, and particularly in the lead water services, this thin film on the inside of the lead water service pipe will help prevent the lead from leaching back into the water as long as we maintain that the pH and the water condition the way we do. Interesting people will certainly relate to remember what happened in Flint, Michigan. What caused the problem out there several years ago is that they had a water supply, they were using corrosion control, and they changed the supply. And when they change the surface supply of the water, they did not follow through with corrosion control. And so all the protection that they had had in the system for a long time was suddenly gone."
Coffey says that's not going to happen in Albany. He says residents who worry or wonder about lead, or suspect lead piping in their line, should turn on the tap for a few minutes each morning:
"Put your finger under the faucet that you're going to drink from or cook from or brush your teeth with. And once you feel the temperature get a little bit cooler or colder, that's when all the water that's been in the plumbing in the house is passed through your pipes and bringing water in from the outside, which doesn't have any lead in it at all. So at that point, you know, that's going to be the probably the best time to use water and minimize the risk to have lead in it. So that's just something that we suggest to people and that's a common practice that a lot of people use."
Coffey says beyond that, various types of water purifiers are available in hardware and department stores, and he advises checking the packaging to see whether the device can filter out lead particles. He suggests using cold water for drinking and cooking, and if your faucets have removable filters, unscrew them and wash out any sediment that may gotten trapped.
"And if people do have any questions, we're going to come back next year with a program to talk a little bit more about how we're going to address lead service pipe replacements in the city. We've got you know thousands of them that we want to try to get really removed by 2040. That's our get the lead out program. And we'll have more detail on that we'll be talking to you and having some billing inserts and media releases that talk about that going into next year."