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Lead-tainted water samples spark warning to Mount Charleston residents

Kyle Canyon residents are being warned about their drinking water after elevated levels of lead turned up in samples collected from a handful of homes on Mount Charleston.

Las Vegas Valley Water District spokesman Bronson Mack said three houses in the Rainbow Subdivision showed lead concentrations above the federal safety limit during regular testing this summer.

The toxic metal appears to be leaching from lead pipe solder or plumbing components inside individual homes, he said.

Lead has not been found in the groundwater well that supplies the Rainbow Subdivision, but Mack said the source of water has seen an increase in chloride, possibly from de-icing salt used to clear the roads of snow in winter. He said the chloride is “making the water more corrosive,” possibly causing it to dissolve the lead in some older in-home plumbing systems.

Residents have not been told to stop using their water. Instead, the utility is encouraging customers on the mountain to let their water run for a minute or two before using it to help flush out any lead.

Older homes at risk

The potential for contamination appears to be limited to homes in the Rainbow Subdivision with plumbing systems from before 1990, Mack said, but the utility decided to alert all of its roughly 400 customers on Mount Charleston “in an abundance of caution.”

“This does not effect people in the Las Vegas Valley. It does not effect people even in Lee Canyon that we can verify,” Mack said.

Dennis Lovell has lived in the Rainbow Subdivision for the past 32 years and now serves on the Mount Charleston Town Advisory Board. He is also a retired, 30-year employee of the water district who worked as a distribution supervisor for the utility.

He said he isn’t too worried because his house contains all new copper plumbing and he usually lets his water run for a bit before using it anyway.

But some of his neighbors might not be so lucky.

“If I was one of the houses (that tested positive for lead), I’d want to know why,” Lovell said. “I’d also like to know if I’m going to have to replace my plumbing.”

From the road to the well

The district began notifying customers Monday with automated phone calls. A letter and fact sheet about the problem should begin arriving in mountain mailboxes this week.

Utility officials will hold an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at Lundy Elementary School in Kyle Canyon.

In the meantime, the district has set up a dedicated information line at 702-822-8388 for mountain residents who have questions or want to have their water tested for free.

Affected homeowners could face the prospect of replacing all their old plumbing fixtures or installing a home filtration system at their own expense.

Mack said the suspected source of the corrosive chloride is the roughly 300 tons of de-icing salt dumped on the mountain each winter by Clark County and the Nevada Department of Transportation.

“We’re seeing a seasonal correlation, with high chloride levels in the spring and lower levels in the late summer,” he said.

As the snow melts, the salt in the de-icing agents apparently washes down into the well used by the Rainbow Subdivision, which Lovell said is lower and closer to the highway than other residential wells on the mountain.

Solution being sought

About five years ago, state and county road crews began using a new, more concentrated form of de-icing salt that some researchers and mountain residents have blamed for killing trees along the highway and in some neighborhoods.

Now comes this water problem. “Before they started to use the road salts, we didn’t have an issue with lead,” Lovell said.

Mack said the district’s water quality lab is looking to correct the problem by adding an anti-corrosion agent to the well serving the Rainbow Subdivision. Similar “corrosion inhibitors” are already used in the valley’s water system, he said.

Lovell said he’s glad to hear the water district is working on a solution, but he has an even better idea: “I think we should stop using road salt. Problem solved,” he said. “Our water was pure before. Quit contaminating it.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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