Courthouse H20gets the lead out |

Courthouse H20gets the lead out

Drinking water at the Pitkin County Courthouse has been given a clean bill of health after a lead-contamination scare last month.The county quickly shut off drinking water in the historic building in late September, when tests indicated lead levels in the water exceeded safe standards by a significant margin. Water coolers were installed and drinking fountains were turned off.Since then, follow-up samples – hand-delivered to two separate laboratories for analysis – indicate the water is safe for drinking. Lead levels in the latest samples, collected Oct. 6, averaged about .003 milligrams of lead per liter of water, said Brian Pettet, director of public works for the county. The standard for clean drinking water is .015 milligrams of lead per liter.Plumbing work that was done in the 1891 courthouse while the initial samples were collected may have caused a disturbance that caused the spike in lead levels, Pettet said. Or, there could have been an error in the collection of the original samples, or at the laboratory.”We just don’t know,” he said.Despite the encouraging results of the latest testing, the county is pursuing a filtration system for drinking water in the building and will leave the water coolers in place for the time being, Pettet said.Even if there is no further hint of contamination, the filtration will make the water taste better and eliminate the possibility of another occurrence of elevated lead levels, he said.”People have always complained about the taste of that water,” Pettet said.It was a complaint about metallic-tasting water in the Courthouse Plaza building next door that triggered the initial tests.Water at the courthouse will be tested quarterly for lead and copper for a year; if no further contamination is detected, the testing will be reduced to twice the following year, and then to once annually.Pettet said the county will also check the plumbing in the building – a task that will probably involve tearing into some walls to check the soldering and pipe joints, which could be sources of lead.Although the alarming lead levels in the water have apparently subsided, the water fountains in the building will not be reactivated. Visitors and employees will continue to use the coolers for the time being, Pettet said.”I think from a reactionary standpoint we did the right thing,” he added. “You always want to be careful.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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