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State funding will allow twice as many lead pipe lines to be replaced in Niagara Falls

National Public Radio
Lead pipes still bring water to millions of homes acrossthe United States.

The Niagara Falls Water Board will be replacing more lead pipe water lines this year than planned. Albany threw in $575,000 to allow more of the potentially dangerous lines to be removed and replaced with safer piping.

At one time, lead pipe in water systems was pretty routine. While the risks of lead pipe have been known for millennia, it is easy to work with - and if handled carefully, it is considered a lesser risk than lead paint in homes, which can chip and create poisonous dust.

In Flint, MI, chemicals used in treating bad water eroded lead off the pipes and into the water, leading to human consumption. Many water systems, like Niagara Falls, want to get rid of them.

Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said testing has to be done.

"The area we can have the most impact and the area that can gives us the most information is by the pediatricians doing that testing," said Stapleton. "You need to get testing of those children and their blood levels early while they are developing. The impact of a child who's two years old getting lead poisoned and a child who's 12 is dramatically different."

Credit File Photo / National Public Radio
National Public Radio

That is because of the rapid development of the brain at two which can be interfered with by the lead. However, Stapleton said lead is much less a problem in Niagara Falls than in Flint.

"The overwhelming cause of the problem in Flint was the untreated water. That's what caused that entire problem," he said. "If the water is treated to reduce the corrosive properties of the water, then that corrosion doesn't occur and the lead doesn't get out of the pipes."

The water board planned to replace 140 of the connections, but now may be able to replace twice as many. Board Chairman Daniel O'Callaghan said the goal would be getting rid of all lead pipe.

"We want to replace all the lead lines in the city. It's a health hazard," said O'Callaghan. "I don't know how many there are, per se. That's a thing that the state and the government and everything is doing and we're part of the program and it's just starting out."

This could be very expensive, since it costs somewhere between $3,000-$5,000 for each pipe replacement and it takes time to dig down, fix the pipe and then fill the hole.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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