Lead and salt in our water, part two

Part one ended with the village’s policy of making property owners responsible for water (and sewer) piping under the street. There are many such examples. Church Street was given over to state Department of Transportation maintenance to save the village money. Several years ago, one property not far from Main Street needed a new sewer line. The main there is in the street, less than 10 feet from the sidewalk. Because it was DOT jurisdiction, that otherwise simple job was done by an out-of-town contractor at a cost of $17,000, replete with the state-required certified flag people. The unfortunate owner went to the village board, but to no avail. The idea that village taxpayers are responsible for their water and sewer lines in the street makes no sense whatsoever. The result is that every street in the village has perpendicular troughs where the laterals have been dug up and replaced, leaving behind a telltale asphalt patch the width of an excavator bucket.

The installation of new mains, while leaving the old laterals in place, is a management failure. There are no actual savings in the long term, and none — or not much — in the short term. In the case of lead contamination, the lead remains in the ground as part of the distribution system despite new water main installations.

In order to reduce our lead contamination to levels below EPA maximums, the village uses zinc orthophosphate as a corrosion inhibitor and soda ash (sodium carbonate) to raise the PH. The orthophosphate coats the lines like a layer of grease. The sodium carbonate reduces the acidity of the water, making it less corrosive. The result, however, is increased salt (sodium) levels in our drinking water. Treatment with soda ash adds sodium (salt) to the water.

In 2020, when the salt contamination became public knowledge, I asked what the actual sample tests showed. We are only told the average is 53 milligrams per liter. No other detail. What are the highs in the tested samples? The village board did not reply nor have they taken any action to my knowledge. Trustee Rich Shapiro commented that the salt content was little more than a serving of potato chips. Hardly a scientific or helpful response. I thought the source must be road salt, and it could also be that in addition to the soda ash. At the time I wrote that letter, I understood the village no longer used soda ash after going to the well/aquifer source. Now I know they still do.

Because the village has elected to not replace water service laterals when they replace water mains, much lead remains in the system. Because of the lead, we are adding salt (the soda ash). The village also found elevated levels of chloride, another component of salt. While not considered harmful to health, it is a corrosive, thereby increasing the need for zinc orthophosphate. In some places, our water mains are half their diameter, so coated are they with the zinc orthophosphate. Another potential health concern is the discovery of drug-resistant microorganisms in drinking water. Studies show that zinc orthophosphate could increase the abundance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic-resistant genes. I drink bottled water, and am evaluating a reverse osmosis system for my home. RO removes lead and salt. I understand that others in the village are considering RO, including the Hotel Saranac. We should not need to spend that money. Like paying to replace your water or sewer laterals, it’s an additional tax.

For the residents of Saranac Lake, the end result is poor quality drinking water. We are paying more for less: more for maintenance and for a lesser quality product. For those of us who have replaced their own laterals, at significant cost, or who are planning to do so, know this: the village does not treat all taxpayers the same. Two jobs in the village have replaced laterals. One was Academy Street a few years ago. That’s one village street without the bumps of patched asphalt due to lateral replacements. The other is the job on part of Lake Street last summer.

Despite recently removing and replacing some old fixtures, it is likely that there is still lead in the water at Petrova and the high school, whether from lead goosenecks or lead-gasketed cast iron pipe. It might be below the max of .015 mg/L, but how much lead do you want our kids to drink? I say none. The testing done in the village is the minimum required. Numerous individual samples have tested positive for lead in recent years. Because they were below the action level, there was no violation issued. There needs to be more frequent testing and the results must be posted to the village website for all to see.

It is hard to believe that the village concludes that leaving lead in the system is the best option. It is further hard to understand why no one on the village board seems to think this is either a health concern or their responsibility.

I have respect for, and am friendly with, all three candidates now running for mayor. However, Melinda Little has been on the board during this ongoing drinking water debacle. She has been there for the positive salt and lead tests of the past few years. During that time, nothing has been done or even discussed publicly. We got a water report with information about salt content printed in unreadable tiny font as a footnote at the bottom. There was no proper notification to the public or the press. The source of the salt has not been discussed publicly. The highs of the samples tested have not been released, despite my request a year and a half ago. It seems that the board has not questioned the lead content of our water nor the village policy, which leaves lead goosenecks and old water mains in place. Melinda’s proposed dog park is a lovely idea, but hardly a priority. You expect clean water to come with your water bill. We deserve clean water. One candidate who has not sat on the board is upset with the present system. He plans to address this problem with common sense, transparency and the urgency it deserves. That candidate is Jim Williams. Vote for the most basic duty of village government. Vote for clean water.

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Dan Reilly lives in Saranac Lake and is a former plumbing and heating contractor.


The homeowner on Olive St. is a friend of Reilly’s, Robert Lawrence. The woman on Kiwassa was June Bedore. Dr. Neil Miller and his wife Barb had the property on Church Street.

https://www.ehow.com/about_6322857_soda-ash-water-treatment.html – Soda ash, also called sodium carbonate or washing soda, is used in many water softeners. This chemical makes the water less acidic, allowing more effective washing with soap. It also increases the sodium level in the water — a health concern for people who limit their sodium intake.

“Environmental Engineering: Water, Wastewater, Soil and Groundwater Treatment,” by Nelson L. Nemerow, Franklin J. Agardy, Patrick J. Sullivan, Joseph A. Salvato. Page 65.




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