What’s in the water? Report says residents face ‘imminent risk’

NEW ORLEANS -- Are you getting an unhealthy level of lead in the city's drinking water?  Should you get a blood test to find out?

A new report from the New Orleans Office of the Inspector General says the answer to both questions might be "yes"-- but the Inspector General claims you wouldn't know it because Mayor Landrieu's office and the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board are not doing enough to warn you about the risk.

In the report titled:  "Lead Exposure and Infrastructure Reconstruction," Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux details what he calls a "serious public health risk due to the partial replacement and/or disturbance of lead service lines."

Those lead service lines are part of the major infrastructure repairs currently underway to update the city's aging streets and water system.  According to the IG's report, replacing-- or even "disturbing" those pipes-- "can cause spikes in lead levels at the tap," putting residents across the city in jeopardy.

"During an inspection of the Sewerage and Water Board's water quality testing practices," the report says, the Inspector General's Office "became aware of an imminent risk to public health."

Quatrevaux urges the Mayor's office and the Sewerage and Water Board to "take immediate action" to lower residents' risk of lead exposure and "advise residents serviced by recently replaced lines, especially those most vulnerable to lead, to have their blood tested."

But in response to the IG's report, the Sewerage and Water Board released its own report, denying or downplaying most of Quatrevaux's concerns.

The Sewerage and Water Board says the agency is "acutely aware of the potential risks associated with lead exposure and (is) fully committed to taking all necessary steps to protect the health and well-being" of those who drink the city's water.

The S&WB also disputes the Inspector General's testing of the city's water sampling method, and says the lead levels are so low that the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has "reduced the monitoring frequency for lead from once every six months to once every three years."

"Simply put," says the S&WB. "New Orleans' drinking water is safe and S&WB is fully compliant with all state and federal rules, processes and laws."