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August 5, 2021

County ponders plumbing replacement to completely eliminate lead in Dukeville

SALISBURY — In an ongoing effort to eliminate lead in drinking water in the Dukeville area, county government is considering completely replacing plumbing in several residences on its Northeast Rowan Water System.

County Manager Aaron Church during Monday’s commissioners meeting will seek approval to start advertising for a contractor to oversee replacements in homes where the lead concentration is above the EPA’s trigger level of 10 parts per billion.

The Northeast Rowan Water System serves 162 connections and several hundred residents. It is owned by the county, but the water is treated by Salisbury-Rowan Utilities. The county has worked to solve the water quality problem since sampling conducted in 2020 revealed elevated lead levels. The county determined the contamination is a result of the solder in the in-home piping of some customers, not the water system itself. 

When lead levels in water exceed the EPA’s current action level of 15 parts per billion, the water system is required to inform the public about steps to protect their health and potentially replace lead service lines under their control. Rowan County has distributed Brita filters to customers on the Northeast Rowan Water System, encouraged customers to run faucets for several minutes before use, clean the water aerators in their faucets and only cook with cold water.

The county was given until Saturday, June 12, to gain EPA compliance by the N.C Department of Environmental Quality. Church said the county and SRU were able to meet that deadline by heeding the recommendation of Virginia Tech researchers and switching from using a polyphosphate blend to treat the utility’s water to zinc orthophosphate.

The county also decided to build a $742,900 chemical booster pump station on Long Ferry Road that will inject additional zinc orthophosphate into the Northeast Rowan Water System. NCDEQ approved the county’s treatment plan in April.

The switch to using zinc orthophosphate was made on June 4, but construction on the chemical pump station won’t start until October. Even after the booster station is completed by early 2021, it will take time for a protective zinc orthophosphate barrier to form inside the pipes and prevent lead seepage.

“It takes a while to build that barrier up,” SRU Director Jim Behmer said. “Even if you change chemicals, it’s not an overnight fix.”

While the county is counting on the zinc orthophosphate and chemical booster station solution to work, Church said changing plumbing in specific homes will eliminate the lead.

“If we do this, it should ensure, as I understand the science, that the potable water is safe to drink, even if the chemical booster pump station doesn’t work or takes longer to work than expected,” Church said.

The county has partnered with 120Water to sample the water of customers on the system. Thus far, Church said that 119 samples have been collected. Of those, 31 showed lead levels above 1.01 parts per billion, with eight exceeding the EPA’s current action level of 15 parts per billion.

The county already has notified customers on the system who participated in the sampling of their lead levels. Now, it will contact customers who may be candidates for new plumbing. To be eligible, a customer must undergo two additional rounds of water testing that show lead levels in their water exceed the 10-parts-per-billion threshold. Customers eligible for new plumbing will receive entirely new pipes, faucets and shower heads. 

Church said he expects about 15 customers to be eligible, but that could change if more samples are completed. The county is still offering customers a $72 credit on their monthly water bill for completing the at-home sampling. More information about the water testing can be found online at rowancountync.gov/1662/Water.

The cost of replacing plumbing in homes on the system is hard to determine at this point, but it could end up costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars. Church said the county will explore using American Rescue Plan funding for the project.

Church’s request to advertise for a contractor for the plumbing replacement project is listed on the consent agenda for the board of commissioners meeting on Monday. If approved, Church said the county likely will hire a contractor by August and have plumbing replaced by late spring of next year.

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