Officials Pump Brakes on Lead-Related Action

The City Council has elected to hold off on an ad hoc committee to take a look at lead remediation in San Marino, but it does intend to eventually consider an ordinance that would ensure contractors doing remodeling and paint-related work in town are qualified to detect and abate lead.
The decisions were made at the City Council’s regular Friday morning meeting on April 28, taking into account information presented at an emergency meeting earlier last week.
“I believe the city has taken the proper action since this has occurred,” Mayor Dr. Richard Sun said. He was referring to a Reuters story published April 19 that characterized San Marino as having a lead exposure problem based on the results of 333 children ages 6 and younger who were screened between 2011-15.
The city formally requested all related data from the L.A. County Department of Public Health, made informational material on lead available at City Hall and on the city’s website and also asked California American Water officials to conduct a survey of water taps in town to check for the toxic heavy metal.
Since the Reuters story was published, what started off as a shock for city officials and residents has become more collected and calm since Department of Public Health officials told the City Council that they don’t believe Reuters properly contextualized the numbers and, at any rate, they came from too small a data pool to mean anything with certainty.
Officials with California American Water were on hand Friday to discuss their findings and analysis of the situation.
“As far as we can tell, it is not a contributor to blood-lead levels in children in the city,” said Timothy Miller, senior director of Water Quality and Environmental Compliance for California American Water.
Miller said samples were collected from 15 San Marino homes this past week — mostly from outdoor taps — and analyzed for lead content. One tap had a negligible amount of lead: ½ of 1 part per billion, which is 1/30th of the action level of 15 parts per billion.
The water provider conducts routine water tests every year, but for those, select customers in the city are given a container and asked to fill it and send it in for analysis. The containers are supposed to be filled with water from a tap that hasn’t been used for between six and 12 hours.
Two samples from the 2014 tests surpassed the 15 parts per billion threshold, which prompted a second test directly taken by California American Water employees. Those tests yielded 6 and 4 parts per billion.
“Which suggests there may have been errors in the collections of those first samples,” Miller explained. “If that second test comes close to the lead of the first one, then we know there is probably a corrosion issue.”
Miller emphasized that this recent round of tests captured water at its earliest delivery point from the source, which was to test the quality of water being sent out.
“This is not really representative of your indoor plumbing system, but rather our distribution system,” he said.
Los Angeles has historically not used lead pipes for water delivery, but the copper or brass pipes used were often soldered together with a metal compound that included lead. Natural minerals in hard water tend to form a film around the inside of pipes and prevent lead from leaching into the water supply, but Miller warned that water softeners remove those minerals before the water is distributed to the rest of the house, making the water more corrosive to piping.
That can create a lead contamination in a home’s water supply that isn’t sourced to the distributor of water, Miller warned.
Armed with that information, the City Council held back on its plan to appoint an ad hoc committee and will hear an ordinance on tightening business license requirements at the May 10 meeting.
“We’d like to make it more comprehensive and spend a little more time developing this ordinance,” interim City Manager Cindy Collins said.
The proposed ordinance would have added a requirement for contractors obtaining business licenses in town to provide documentation that they have been EPA certified in detecting and abating lead from paint in homes and also to show to the city that any lead-based paint was properly and fully removed from a structure.
“I think it behooves us to continue to look into the issue to make sure this information is correct,” Councilman Steve Talt said. “I do agree that this issue has been totally overblown.”
Talt echoed what officials said at a separate meeting last week about how the Reuters report incorrectly characterized what the information from blood samples meant, in particular how screens that are below an intervening threshold are logged as elevated for cautionary purposes.
“That’s where Reuters really fumbled the ball,” Talt added.

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