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The pieces of the puzzle are coming together, according to the Harford County Health Department, but there are still no answers for residents of a community near Fallston where lead was found in the drinking water.

The situation at the Grafton Ridge development was compared to a puzzle by William Wiseman, spokesman for the health department.

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"[It's] kind of like a jigsaw puzzle," he said, "the more pieces we have, the clearer the picture we have."

At this point in the process, Wiseman reiterated, there were no updates.

Robert Martin, media person for Richmond American, said last week that the company could not publicly comment on the issue, but is "proactively working with those affected toward a solution."

Sale triggered discovery

It all started with a house sale, Health Officer Susan Kelly said in late July. Either the buyer or lender required a lead test of the water in the real estate contract for one of the homes in Grafton Ridge, situated between Fallston and Forest Hill, and the test showed elevated lead levels.

Richmond American, the builder of the development, started the testing process, in addition to several homeowners who used private labs, Kelly added.

In a community meeting in Fallston on July 26, Kelly also released the results of the testing done thus far, which showed the highest concentration of lead at the pressure tanks.

Fourteen out of 16 homes tested had lead contamination above the federal EPA action level standard of 15 lead parts per billion, she reported at the meeting.

There is a brass piece attached to the pressure tank, Briegel said then, that if eroded by Harford County's acidic water, could be contributing to the lead levels.

With that in mind, Briegel announced at the meeting they would replace those parts with stainless steel ones and then re-test. Briegel also said they would forward aggregate data to the health department.

Awaiting data

Early last week, Wiseman said, the health department had not yet received the aggregate data and just had "isolated samples of water."

Without the data, he added, they were still waiting on the bigger picture before drawing any conclusions.

The last released results also showed that three out of 11 wells had lead contamination, but at the time, Briegel said they would go back and test to see if it was an anomaly.

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The health department does not test for lead in the wellwater before issuing a Certificate of Potability, Kelly said in July.

This is in accordance with state regulations, which, according to Jay Apperson, deputy director for the Maryland Department of the Environment Office of Communications, is because lead is not generally found in groundwater.

"When lead is present in a water supply system it almost always is coming from the plumbing or fixtures," he wrote in an e-mail, "and can be ameliorated by letting the water run, rather than consuming water that has been in the pipes for a period of time."

Testing not needed?

County Councilman Joseph Woods, whose district encompasses the Grafton Ridge development, echoed those thoughts.

Woods said he does not think the health department should require testing for lead in the wells of new developments because there isn't much potential for lead to be found anyway.

"I think it'd be a waste," he said, adding that lead is typically found within a house from various products.

Woods did, however, suggest an educational campaign to encourage residents to test their well water on a regular basis and be aware of potential hazards.

Woods also said the constituents he has spoken to about the issue were pleased with the health department's response.

"I think the health department went above and beyond on that one," he added.

Although Grafton Ridge is not in his district, Councilman Chad Shrodes does represent a rural district with many homes with private wells.

Given this, Shrodes said he will look into the issue and do more research to see if the county should require lead testing in wells.

Northern Harford State Sen. Barry Glassman agreed, saying lead has not historically been found in well water; however, he said he will other state legislators to see if the testing should be addressed.

"[There's] no track record of it being a groundwater problem," Glassman said. "It's very rare."

Glassman likewise reiterated what the builder and health department suggested at the meeting, that the lead was the result of products used in the homes' plumbing.

In a way, he said, it was a "blessing" because then it's fixable and not necessarily groundwater contamination, which would pose greater problems.

More research likely

Along with Shrodes and Glassman, Northern Harford Del. Donna Stifler said she will look into the situation and do research to see the costs associated with testing wells and whether or not it's truly necessary.

"I think we need to do more research," she said. "If we were to get information that this is widespread then that changes the equation."

The health department is waiting for the testing results from the builder and, according to Wiseman, was posting a frequently asked questions page online Friday, providing details about lead contamination, with information from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Natural Resources.

"Our concern is primarily with the health and safety of individuals," the local health department spokesman emphasized.

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