The day after results from water samples at Ulster County facilities showed elevated levels of lead, Kingston city officials released their most recent water testing results. The tests show the problem is not at the source.
Following proactive tap water testing undertaken at 26 Ulster County owned or leased facilities in Kingston, 20 of 29 samples showed elevated lead levels of lead, including in the building that houses Ulster County Executive Mike Hein’s office. After receiving the results, Hein says he took the following action.
“I immediately ordered testing of every single county facility,” says Hein. “And we’re also going to be working with the Water Quality Task Force at the state of New York, making sure that we’re moving through this with best practices, that’s the state Department of Health, DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] and others, all in concert with the federal EPA.”
He says there are 70 county-owned or operated facilities. Hein says he ordered the initial tests after lead and other contaminants were found in water supplies in Flint, Michigan and other places. After Ulster County’s report was released, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble decided to post the city’s most recent water testing results, to let the public know the water source itself is not the problem.
“When the report came out showing that there were issues at the Ulster County buildings, there was not a clear reporting that the City of Kingston water supply and distribution system was safe,” says Noble.
“We have every reason to believe that the water coming in to the facilities is absolutely fine and the contamination is happening in the pipes within the infrastructure of those particular facilities,” says Hein.
Kingston’s water source is tested every three years, and the most recent results from the Kingston Water Department are from 2015. Again, Noble.
“Indeed, the source and distribution system are, in essence, lead-free and that when people have these types of issues, it’s related to the internal plumbing of the buildings,” Noble says.
The water department also shared results of water samples from a number of residential homes in the city, which showed either no lead or levels far below the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 parts per billion, or 15 micrograms per liter. Along with posting results on the county website, Hein ordered various measures for the county buildings, including that tap water be used for washing hands or dishes, but not for drinking.
“The good news, if there is any in this situation, is the county had previously, over the course of the last 12 months, installed water-filling stations, which are really filtered water fountains,” says Hein. “And, in those situations, it does a wonderful job of filtering out any and all of these types of contaminants.”
He says facilities that don’t have these filling stations have bottled water. Hein believes proactive testing should take place not only in Kingston, but elsewhere.
“I think every municipality should be doing this proactive testing on all of their facilities because, again, that’s how you’ll get a baseline and have a better understanding of how significant an issue you have,” Hein says.
Noble says there are plans to test city buildings.
“Our interest is to just make sure that our own internal plumbing are also, in our city buildings, meet our standards,” says Noble. “And so we’re working to put a plan together to test our buildings as well.”
Hein says he will take a look at long-term solutions, whether that entails adding filters to the system or working on plumbing and infrastructure.
“We’re always going to do what’s right and what’s in line with public safety. And there’s going to be some costs associated with this, inevitably, but we’ll have to able to save money in other areas,” says Hein. “Again, would I love to see more investment from the state both in testing and in infrastructure assistance for municipalities around the state? Of course. And, again, we’ll be advocating for that as well.”
In the meantime, Mayor Noble and the Kingston Water Department will host a Public Education Forum May 24 at City Hall to inform residents about water safety at home.