Lead levels in Columbia City drinking water OK after scare

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WANE) A letter that went out to Columbia City residents this week that indicated elevated levels of lead had been found in city drinking water was, while state mandated, ultimately gratuitous after further testing found no issues.

On Thursday, the city issued a city-wide letter that said the Columbia City Water Department found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in some homes or buildings. The two-page letter did not explain where the lead was found or how high the lead levels had climbed, but rather provided information on the health effects of lead and where lead can originate, and offered tips on how residents could reduce their exposure to the harmful toxin.

The letter quickly circulated through the city. Several residents contacted NewsChannel 15 with strong concerns, considering the water crisis in Flint, Michigan that grabbed headlines for more than a year.

Late Thursday then, Mayor Ryan Daniel issued a follow-up statement on the city’s Facebook page that, in every practical sense, cut down the letter.

In his note, Daniel explained that a month ago, the city’s water department performed “normal testing” of the city’s drinking water for miscellaneous chemical compounds and toxins – specifically, lead. In that round of tests, three of the 30 came back with elevated levels of lead, Daniel said.

The city then looked into those tests and found what Daniel called “flaws” in the actual testing, which he said lead to the spiked lead levels.

“After proper retesting, the City went back into compliance and PASSED all Lead Tests – meaning we had lower than allowable Lead levels,” said Daniel.

Still, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management mandated the city to issue the city-wide flyer – an “unnerving” one, the mayor said – about the elevated lead levels in the city drinking water. Daniel reiterated in his note that the city passed all lead tests.

Daniel said the “vast majority” of Columbia City’s water mains are not lead lines. He said in most cases, lead is found in private service lines or in the internal plumbing of older homes. Daniel said when the city comes across lead lines, they are replaced with metal or plastic ones.

He added that the city’s water is not naturally acidic, so even with lead lines, Columbia City water does not eat away at pipes.

“We certainly apologize for any confusion and/or worry this letter has caused,” said Daniel. “While it’s important to make sure the public knows when a problem occurs – and we have always notified when this happens – this instance is a case of over precaution by a state agency.”