County drinking water contains slightly more lead than a new federalstandard would allow, but is still safe, a county spokeswoman said.

The lead levels, said Jody Vollmar, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Utilities, are well below the old Environmental Protection Agency standard of 50 parts per billion.

The EPA wants to lower the amount of lead in Americans' drinking water to fewer than 15 parts per billion. EPA officials announced a new lead abatement program May 7 which they hope will provide 10 timesmore protection against lead than present regulations.

The federal agency's rules, which would not be phased in until January, would require the nation's 79,000 residential water suppliers to monitor lead content at household taps and take steps to reduce concentrations of lead.

Lead poisoning is considered one of the most serious environmental threats to children. Sources of lead in the environment include leaded gasoline, lead-based paints and lead pipes or lead-soldered copper pipes.

The county's 1988 test measured lead in the county's raw water supply. Vollmar said the county treats the water to reduce the threat from lead and other contaminants before distributing the water to the 60,000 residential customers, including apartment complexes.

Vollmar said the county will retest the water at the treatment plant within a few weeks and take corrective action this summer.

The county also could begin random testing of tap water at 100

county homes, as required under the new rules, she said.

"We stillhave to find 100 people to allow us into their homes," Vollmar said."It's interesting that the EPA is requiring utilities to do that. Itraises the question of how much responsibility the government has onprivate property. If the responsibility goes from the distribution pipe clear to the front door, where does the responsibility end?"

Vollmar said she was contacting newspapers this week to stem any concern over lead levels after the media reported the new EPA levels last week.

State Department of the Environment spokesman Michael Sullivan said the greatest threat of lead in the water comes from homes built in the early 1900s with lead pipes or homes containing copper pipes soldered with lead. Lead solder was discontinued in 1986.

Overall, the threat from lead in the water is marginal compared to the threat from lead paint and dust, Sullivan said.

Worried residents, particularly those with lead pipes or lead-soldered copper pipes, can take several simple steps to avoid problems, Vollmar said. Those steps include:

* Avoid using hot tap water when cooking. Hot water dissolves lead in the pipe.

* If pipes have not been used for a day, run tap water until cool. The collected water can safely be used on gardens or dishes, Vollmar said.

* Hire an independent lab to test the tap water.

If testing shows higher lead levels, then the county could be required to begin an educational program and further treat the water, Vollmar said.

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