Thursday, June 9, 2016
Could Memphis suffer the same fate as Flint?
The water fiasco in Flint, Mich., is still at the top of people’s minds everywhere – even in Memphis, where age-old corroded pipes and contaminated water could spell trouble for people living in older communities.
In light of Flint’s widespread water problems – which stoked fear across the United States for months – Memphis Light Gas and Water Division has discovered a 16-year-old database in its archives containing 38,275 records of service lines possibly made of lead between 1874 and 1940.
Out of approximately 288,000 water lines, 3,029 of 38,275 of those lines were installed before 1900. That’s 39 years before MLGW was established. The latter – 38,275 lines – was installed mostly within the vicinity of the Parkways and other areas.
“Flint is the most recent example,” said former state Rep. Henri Brooks, who lived for a while on South Parkway, one of the oldest areas in Memphis. “But you’re find this problem all over the nation in older communities.”
The water problem affects more people of color, said Brooks, pointing to the impact it has had on African Americans, particularly in Flint. So she’s challenging Memphians to respond sooner than later to fix the problem to avoid a similar fate.
“People in Memphis need to get the ball rolling now,” she said, “before we have this massive health problem on down the road.”
The tap that Phyllis Randolph drinks from spews murky brown water sometimes when MLGW is working on the water main. “I have to watch my water,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s mud that gets in the pipes or not, but I count to 10 before the water is clear.”
Randolph is a retired schoolteacher who lives in an older neighborhood in Mid-town. She’s aware that the homes in the area, including her own, could be outfitted with lead pipes. She’s just not sure.
“Somebody knows something,” said Randolph, noting the database of lead pipes in older communities should have been uncovered long ago to keep the community and its people out of harm’s way.
“You can’t lay pipes and not have a history of what those pipes were made of and where they were manufactured. This reminds me of the lead they used in paints years ago.”
Fixing the problem could cost millions, she said.
The database and a map of the affected areas can be found on MLGW’s website at http://www.mlgw.com/leadservicedatabase. MLGW field inspectors will be scouring the database to determine where the lead pipes are located.
Jerry Collins, MLGW president and CEO, says residents who are concerned about possible water contamination or lead poisoning should not be alarmed. “Our water has never been higher quality than it is today,” he said.
MLGW has tested for lead in Shelby County for years. Older homes suspected of containing lead pipes have consistently been in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency, the utility pointed out. Five micrograms in the blood is considered lead poisoning, according to the EPA.
Even if homes are outfitted with lead pipes, Collins said homeowners need not worry. Those pipes have been treated with sodium hexametaphosphate, a coating that reduces corrosion and helps protect pipes in the home.
Water in Memphis is drawn from artesian wells. It consistently meets EPA drinking water standards, MLGW says.
Residents unsure about the tap water in their homes can request a free water testing kit.
“This is a serious public health issue,” Brooks said.