Town of Hempstead officials announced last week that the town would replace 100-year-old lead water pipes that service Point Lookout residents because they pose a potential health risk.
More than 500 pipes are to be replaced with copper ones, Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said at a news conference in Point Lookout on Oct. 18. The town received a $600,000 grant from the state Department of Health to switch out the pipes for more than 1,200 Point Lookout residents.
“This is aging infrastructure that is all over America and all over New York state,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Lead is known to actually build up in the body and cause very serious ailments, particularly for children and developing fetuses. It causes such things as learning disabilities, anemia. It damages blood cells. It also damages the kidney, the liver and the neurological system.”
John Reinhardt, the town water commissioner, said that trace amounts of lead could be found in samples that were drawn in Point Lookout, but they were below the federal standard for safe drinking water. Gillen said there is “no reason for alarm” because the pipes had not leached lead into the water supply.
The corrosion of lead pipes can cause toxins to leach into the water, as was the case in 2014, when the water supply for more than 100,000 residents of Flint, Mich., was contaminated, Gillen recalled.
“The federal regulation for lead is 15 parts per billion, but the [Environmental Protection Agency] recommends actually a zero tolerance for lead because it’s so highly poisonous,” Esposito said. “I think that’s why being proactive and changing these pipes out before they begin to leach is so critical. Even the existing standard is really not safe enough.”
The town regularly tests its water to ensure that it is free of contaminants, including lead, Gillen said. The pipes that are now being used — one- to two-foot-long tubes called “goosenecks” — connect the water main to the service line. The lead goosenecks were standard issue in the 1920s, Gillen explained, when Point Lookout was transitioning from a seasonal beach bungalow community to a year-round residential one.
The current industry standard is copper pipes, Gillen added, noting that the town will begin to replace the pipes next month. Town employees worked with Reinhardt for months to survey the community, inspect underground infrastructure and identify where the lead pipes were located, officials said.
“The best thing a homeowner can do is when they use their water first thing in the morning, let the water run for a minute or so just to flush their own system in their house,” Reinhardt said.
Town officials said the pipes are in relatively good condition but are reaching the end of their lifespan. “This is a proactive project that is seeking to address potential health risks before they become an issue, not afterwards,” Gillen said.
Point Lookout Civic Association President Matt Brennan said there would be minimal disruptions for residents, and that he would work to keep people informed throughout the process.
“It’s better to prevent the contamination from getting in the water rather than filter it out afterwards,” Esposito said. “It’s $600,000 of prevention, which is worth millions of dollars of cleaning this up or dealing with people’s health concerns.”