The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said this week that a “report” of a Fresno resident testing positive for lead in urine wasn’t a formal notification to the agency from the resident, but instead was secondhand information in a bulk email sent out Tuesday to members of a group concerned about discoloration and lead contamination of water in northeast Fresno.
In the email blast, the group Citizens for District 6 declined to identify the resident, but described the case as “our first positive lead poisoning result from northeast Fresno.” The message quoted the resident as saying “my lead level is ‘slightly elevated’ as is my nickel and cadmium levels.”
District 6 is the Fresno City Council district of northeast Fresno in which hundreds of homeowners have complained to the city since January about discolored water coming from faucets in their homes. In several dozen homes, follow-up tests by the city’s Public Utilities Department have revealed levels of lead in the water above 15 parts per billion, a threshold set by the EPA above which corrective action must be taken.
The only way to detect the extent of lead in a person’s body is through a urine test
Holly Carter, Citizens for Clean Water and Citizens for District 6
Holly Carter, a public relations professional, is one of the organizers of Citizens for District 6 and of Citizens for Clean Water. In an email to The Bee, Carter said the resident indicated that a urine lead level was about 2 1/2 times above normal. She added that “the only way to detect the extent of lead in a person’s body is through a urine test … from what I understand.”
Despite what was attributed to the resident in the email, “nowhere did it say ‘slightly elevated,’ to my knowledge,” Carter added. “The test indicated lead levels were ‘high’ along with two other metals.” Carter said the person lives in a home with discolored water that’s among those tested by the city with results showing excessive levels of lead in the water.
“The test is being sent to the EPA in full so they can evaluate the information,” Carter said.
The EPA’s San Francisco office received the email blast Tuesday, but “we have received no additional information from the resident or from Citizens for District 6 regarding this report or any test results,” EPA spokeswoman Soledad Calvino said Thursday.
The EPA disputed Carter’s assertion that urine is “the only way” to detect lead in a person’s body.
Consistent with the Centers for Disease Control recommendations on lead, blood lead levels – not urine lead levels – are the preferred analytical method for evaluating both exposures to lead and the likelihood of adverse health effects from any exposures.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statement on lead testing
“Consistent with the Centers for Disease Control recommendations on lead, blood lead levels – not urine lead levels – are the preferred analytical method for evaluating both exposures to lead and the likelihood of adverse health effects from any exposures,” the agency said in a statement.
David Pomaville, Fresno County’s director of public health, said this week that he was concerned and frustrated by ill-considered public statements about “lead poisoning” based on a urine test in which the resident described lead levels as “slightly elevated.”
Concerns over discoloration and lead in the water in northeast Fresno are largely focused on the area served by the city’s Northeast Surface Water Treatment Facility. Some residents’ complaints about discolored water in the area date to at least 2004, the same year that the plant – which disinfects, filters and adds anti-corrosion chemicals to water from the Enterprise Canal – became operational.
City officials believe chemical and alkalinity differences between surface water and pumped well water have contributed to corrosion of galvanized iron pipes or lead-bearing faucets and fixtures within some northeast Fresno homes.