SHERIDAN — A veterans hospital in northern Wyoming reported its drinking water had lead levels above federal recommendations twice in the past five years, but officials say the readings were from isolated samples and that the hospital hasn’t violated safety regulations.
The Sheridan VA Medical Center reported water samples showed lead levels of 22 parts per billion in 2011 and 23 parts per billion in 2014.
While no amount of lead exposure is considered safe, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule calls for water systems to keep levels below 15 parts per billion.
If more than 10 percent of the samples are above that level, water providers must inform customers about the problem and increase water sampling. In some cases, they must take steps such as adding chemicals to control corrosion and prevent leaching of the lead.
An Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data found that nearly 1,400 water systems nationwide serving 3.6 million Americans have exceeded the federal lead standard at least once since Jan. 1, 2013. The affected systems are large and small, public and private, and include 278 systems that are owned and operated by schools and day care centers in 41 states.
The Sheridan VA hospital has its own water system, including a reservoir and filtration plant, and is required to test and report lead levels like a city water utility.
The hospital said it has stepped up water testing because of the 2011 and 2014 readings, as required by federal rules. The hospital said it’s not required to take any other steps.
“We have high confidence in the water quality of the overall water system,” the hospital said in a written statement to the AP. “We have no system-wide concerns about our water quality.”
In a letter to Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the hospital said the lead is getting into the water from lead joints in the pipes in some of its aging buildings, not from its reservoir or filtration plant. Some of the buildings at the medical center date to the late 1800s. As buildings are remodeled, the VA installs new lead-free pipes, the hospital said.
The hospital told Barrasso the 2011 and 2014 readings were above 15 parts per billion, “but this is not a violation and only requires additional monitoring.” Barrasso’s office provided the letter to the AP.
Municipal water systems in Buffalo, Wyoming, and Alpine, Wyoming, also exceeded the 15 parts per billion level at least once each since 2010, according to the EPA data. Buffalo’s utility said in a notice to water users that it had stepped up monitoring. Officials from the towns did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.
Recluse School, about 35 miles north of Gillette, reported levels of 19 parts per billion last year, but the lead was found in water from a single faucet in a lab, and no one drinks from it, said Andy Mravlja, facilities coordinator for the Campbell County School District.
The rural school also has its own water system.
Mravlja said school officials believe a water softener hooked up to that faucet may have contributed to the lead levels, and they’re taking corrective steps.
“We will do whatever we need to do,” he said.