INVESTIGATES: Does EPA lead pipe survey hold water?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action news Jax Ben Becker is investigating how safe is your drinking water after a recent EPA survey concluded Florida has more lead pipes carrying water into homes than any other state.


Becker uncovered from experts that there are questions if those results hold water.

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“How often do you drink out of the tap?” Becker asked Julington Creek resident Peter Plumeri. “Rarely,” Plumeri said.

The EPA released a survey in April of more than 3,600 water providers and utilities nationwide.

The EPA said there are about 9.2 million lead pipes carry water into homes across the U.S., with more in Florida than any other state.

The EPA concluded Florida has an estimated 1.1 million lead pipes -- lead can cause brain damage and the EPA says no amount is safe for children or pregnant mothers.

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“Did you know there was lead in the water here?,” Becker asked Plumeri. “No I didn’t,” Plumeri said.

In an Action News Jax investigation, Becker discovered two local homes with potentially unsafe levels of lead -- the good news it was in 2020.

JEA sent a letter to the previous homeowner where Plumeri lives.

A follow-up test nine days later revealed the levels dropped to almost zero.

JEA took part in the EPA survey and told Becker in a statement, “84% of the system is lead-free; we are continuing to research the other 16%.” The utility added that high level results can occur if water sits in the line for an extended period of time and may enter the water from brass faucets and fittings inside homes. Prior to 2014, brass contained up to 8% lead. Since then, by federal law, brass fittings must now contain less than 0.25% lead.

So what happened at Plumeri’s home and are you really in danger as the EPA survey suggested?

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“Do you think the EPA is overzealous?,” Becker asked Andy Mayer who is the president of Murphy Pipeline Contractors in Jacksonville. “Yes,” Mayer said.

His company installs and removes pipes all across the country, including Jacksonville.

He says while they have found lead pipes in Tampa and parts of South Florida, it’s rare elsewhere in the state.

Mayer says water gets into your home from the utilities main line to a service line. He says a connector called a gooseneck could be to blame for the number of lead pipes in the survey.

“So, if they lift a floorboard and see a lead gooseneck they are going to assume it’s lead all the way out,” Mayer said.

“We’ve been looking into this issue for over a decade,” says Erik Olson who is the Senior Strategic Director for Health at the Environmental Group Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Olson says lead-laced water is usually associated with northern states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

His group’s survey estimates, there are only 200,000 lead pipes in Florida, not more than a million.

“Could a cynic say the numbers were reported in a way to draw more money in?,” Becker asked.

“Certainly some people have asked me that question,” Olson said.

As a result the EPA says the country will need to spend $625 billion taxpayer dollars on drinking water infrastructure over the next two decades, including more than $26 billion in Florida.

For now, $15 billion will be spent, with Florida receiving a $1.1 billion cut.

“It seems in some states with Florida being the prime example they smushed them all together and said if have any component arguably lead we are going to call it lead,” Olsen said.

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As for Peter Plumeri, he’s happy drinking bottled or filtered water, but not for the reason you may think

“That’s because of the convenience of having other water on hand, not necessarily because I’m going to get lead poisoning from my tap water.”

Becker emailed the EPA about its survey and never received a statement.

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Federal law requires JEA to take samples from a subset of customers every three years. The next batch of results will be released in September.

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