The company that built homes in a Harford County development thinks it may have identified a possible cause of lead contaminated drinking water found in several of the homes' water systems.
Harford County health officials, however, say more testing needs to be done to the wells and plumbing in about 45 homes in the Grafton Ridge community off Grafton Shop Road between Fallston and Forest Hill.
During a health department sponsored community meeting held in Fallston Tuesday evening, William Briegel, vice president of land development for Richmond American Homes, said the company had found that a brass plumbing fitting in well pressure tanks of the Grafton Ridge homes may be responsible for the lead contamination of their water.
The homes were built between 2006 and 2009 and sold in the past few years at anywhere from $550,000 to $750,000, according to state tax records. Richmond American still owns a few unsold lots in the community.
At the Fallston meeting, Harford Health Officer Susan Kelly released the limited test data her agency has received from 19 homes in the subdivision. Some results showed water from nine homes had lead levels above the federal Environmental Protection Agency action level standard of 15 lead parts per billion. EPA says water with lead concentrations above that level should not be consumed.
The remaining homes in Grafton Ridge either tested non-detect or had lead concentrations under the action level.
Bottled water provided
Because of the initial findings, homeowners are temporarily being provided with bottled water by Richmond American, officials confirmed Tuesday.
Lead is toxic to humans in small amounts, mainly to children, where it is known to cause learning and developmental disabilities. The EPA says adults can suffer adverse health effects from prolonged exposure to lead from contaminated drinking water.
By far, Briegel said, the highest concentrations were from the pressure tank samples. Of the 16 pressure tanks tested, Kelly confirmed, 14 were found to be above the EPA action level.
The results were a compilation from different laboratories, Kelly said Wednesday, including from Health Department testing at the state lab, Richmond American Homes results and private labs that a few homeowners had contacted. More results are still coming in, she said.
The testing was triggered by a pending home sale in the community, Kelly said. From what she understood, a lender had required a lead test in the real estate contract. The test showed elevated lead levels, prompting other residents to check their own water.
After seeing elevated lead levels at the pressure tanks, Briegel said, Richmond American Homes discovered a brass fitting that appeared to have deteriorated from the acidic groundwater in that area, which in turn might have caused the elevated lead level in the water.
"Water in Harford County is acidic," Kelly agreed in a phone interview Wednesday, "and the acid does erode fixtures."
To combat the problem, Briegel said, the builder ordered stainless steel replacements for the fittings, as well as chemical neutralizer. Once those new fittings have been installed in a few homes, he said, they will test the water again to see if the lead is still present in the same levels.
In response to a resident's question during Tuesday's meeting, Briegel said that the maintenance required with a neutralizer, typically once a year, would be the responsibility of the homeowner.
Results did show there was lead above the action level at the wellhead in three of the 11 homes tested, and Briegel said they would go back and retest those wells to ensure it was not an anomaly.
Pending the further tests, he said, the company thinks the brass piece in the pressure tank is contributing to most of the elevated lead levels.
Kelly, too, said there were inconsistencies in the current data, which showed lead in some wells, but then not in the flush samples, which will in turn require further testing.