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DOH Confirms Three Confirmed Cases of Low Lead Levels and Water Distribution Dates

Dr. Esther Ellis discusses results of lead testing at Wednesday’s town hall meeting. (Zoom meeting screenshot)

In a Water and Power Authority town hall meeting held on Wednesday evening, the V.I. Health Department confirmed three children on St. Croix tested positive for low levels of lead and provided water filter distribution dates. 

The update comes after months of concern about St. Croix’s potable water supply after testing for the cause of brown water coming from many people’s faucets in late September found 35 of 66 WAPA lines tested positive for elevated lead and copper levels. One unspecified test site was at 20,100 parts per billion lead — 1,340 times federal limits — and 137,000 copper — 105 times federal limits. Followup testing has shown levels much lower than previously detected.

During an update given by the Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis on Wednesday, she confirmed that 1,270 children from newborn to six years of age were tested. This number was over the department’s goal of 1,000 children. Results showed that three children tested positive for lead and six for copper. 

Ellis confirmed that the levels detected were below the levels of concern of 3.5 mcg/dl and the six children testing positive for copper had no health defects.

She also said that the official EPA-approved water test results are pending. Home assessments were completed for the six positive cases and lead was found in cooking pots and in floor tile.  

“We did ensure that all children did have linkage to care to determine any health effects, as well as did home assessments to find where the lead is coming from. It’s important to identify where the lead contamination is coming from and then remove that exposure and then retest. As you remove them to ensure your body can clear the lead from your blood and then we can test again to ensure that these children are no longer being exposed to lead,” said Ellis.  

WAPA Director of Corporate Communications Shanell Peterson, added, “The sampling that was conducted by the EPA showed that we are within compliance and that there are no impacted areas with lead. As well as the 31 samples that WAPA has done in addition to the 119 that EPA has conducted shows that we are in compliance.” This was in reference to an announcement made in December that the results of sequential sampling of water on St. Croix were lower than first reported. 

Director of Water Distribution Don Gregoire also provided updates on water and water filter distribution for those whose homes were affected by the issue. Distribution of faucet filters and pitchers to businesses and residences will be held Thursday through Saturday at the Frederiksted parking lot adjacent to the Midre Cummings Playground from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The authority asks all customers to bring a 2023 water bill and valid identification. Vouchers for bottled water handed out in November will expire on Feb. 19. 

“The filters will remove 99.9 percent of lead. They will not completely clear discolored water and replacement filters will need to be purchased,” Gregoire said. He said there are currently no vendors selling replacement filters locally, but WAPA is working on this.

Other initiatives include $75 in water bill credits, which will be rolled out soon, and fitting 28 of the 36 sites found to have high levels of lead with lead-free components, including 64-meter boxes. The authority said it also plans to kick off a territory-wide outreach and education program.

For more updates regarding the WAPA water situation, visit https://cleanwaterusvi.com.

The town hall meeting is available to view here.

For more information about lead and lead testing, call the Health Department hotline at 340-712-6499. 

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