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Navy retests show lower lead levels in some water taps

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 15, 2014

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Retests of water taps at Navy bases in Japan showed fewer elevated levels of lead than the initial tests that forced faucet shutdowns at schools and day care centers in August, officials said Wednesday.

Out of more than 300 water samples that tested initially higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for immediate lead remediation this past summer, 63 tested higher than the EPA standard the second time around. Of those 63, only two remained elevated after running the tap for 30 seconds to clear the faucets of built-up deposits.

The retests included buildings at Yokosuka, Sasebo, Atsugi and satellite housing areas.

Further testing remains at the new Ikego Elementary School near Yokosuka, where 22 faucets, six water fountains and one water cooler exceeded EPA lead standards during the initial tests. Base officials are also waiting on lab results for some faucets at Sasebo.

In the majority of cases, the elevated lead levels were caused by faucets and water fountains not being used during the summer, said Bill Kavanagh, an environmental engineer with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.

“Lead is just one of many things that comes off the piping … although lead is of major concern,” Kavanagh said.

Exposure to elevated lead levels has been linked to stunted growth and lower intelligence in children, according to the EPA. In adults, it has also been linked to brain and kidney damage, among other maladies.

Prior to the beginning of the school year, the Navy in Japan tested nearly 4,000 water sources for lead contamination. Water fixtures that tested above 20 parts of lead per billion were shut down before school started.

The Navy plans to replace the water fixtures that tested higher than that standard during initial testing, in order to be as safe as possible, Commander Naval Region Japan spokesman Cmdr. Ron Flanders said.

A federal law on lead reduction, which went into effect Jan. 4, lowers the maximum content of plumbing products with wet surfaces from 8 percent to a weighted average of 0.25 percent.

All of the new fixtures installed will adhere to the updated standard, Navy officials said Wednesday.

slavin.erik@stripes.com
Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

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Bill Kavanagh, an environmental engineer with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, recommended the following steps to prevent absorption of lead and other minerals from water supplies:

  • Never use hot water out of the tap for drinking or cooking. Hot water can remove additional minerals from piping more aggressively than cold water, Kavanagh said. Always let tap water run until it gets cold.
  • Take the screens off faucets and wash them free of minerals occasionally.
  • Do not freeze water in disposable plastic bottles.
  • Turn on a bathroom fan when showering, to mitigate potential effects of vaporized additives to the water supply.

Water fountain
ASHLEY L. GARDNER/U.S. AIR FORCE

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