Residents of a central Olathe neighborhood expressed concerns and confusion Wednesday afternoon after the city notified them that it had detected a potentially elevated level of lead in their water.
“I thought, ‘Really? Crap. We drink that water,’ ” Jennifer Ortega, who lives in the Ridgeview South neighborhood, recalled thinking when she was told about the potential health risk.
The city discovered the possible high lead level during follow-up testing of a water line it had replaced last summer.
Though the test could be a false positive, the city is taking precautions by testing the water from the taps of 105 houses in the neighborhood, said Erin Vader, Olathe’s assistant director of communications.
The water samples will be sent to a certified lab, with test results expected within five days. The city wanted to err on the side of caution, considering water safety issues in other parts of the country, Vader said.
City staff alerted residents by going door to door in the neighborhood Tuesday night. The city provided test kits, including empty bottles for collecting water samples, and left each customer 6 gallons of water in jugs. The city asked affected residents to avoid using tap water for cooking and drinking.
Ortega said she didn’t know at first if the concerns were real because the city worker came knocking on her door shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday. She was doing laundry and almost missed the knocking because she was putting her 2-year-old son to bed.
The city worker told her not to use the water until the city had a chance to test it.
Ortega said her son gets sick easily, so she will be sticking to bottled water. She said she hopes the city finds out soon whether the water is safe.
The water quality concern is isolated to the neighborhood generally bounded by East Dennis Avenue to the south, East Sheridan Street to the north, South Ridgeview Road to the east and South Sunset Drive to the west.
The results came from a field test of samples from the water line, which is not an accurate way to measure for lead and copper, Vader said. The most accurate way is to measure water from facets.
Zach Hardy, Olathe’s field operation manager, said the city had been doing water line rehabilitation work in the area to address low water pressure.
While flushing fire hydrants, workers noticed reddish-brown water that came out. The city had the water tested for a variety of contaminants.
Linda Lyman, who lives on Hunter, said a city worker stopped by her house about 9:30 p.m. One of her first concerns was that she wouldn’t be able to flush the toilet or use the shower.
“The first thing that came to my mind was Flint, Mich.,” she said.
In 2014, Flint started using the Flint River as its water supply in an effort to save money. But it failed to add chemicals to prevent pipe corrosion, causing lead to leach into the water system.
“Now they are saying there is potential for lead in the water system?” said Lyman, who recently got out of the hospital. “I don’t know what a ‘potential for lead’ means. You either got lead or don’t, don’t you?”
Melinda Lauver, who also lives on Hunter, said she didn’t find out about the situation until she arrived home Wednesday afternoon.
“It was nice of them to provide a bunch of bottled water,” she said. “I’d like to know what’s going on with the water. That’s all.”
Lauver didn’t realize there was a possibility of lead in the water.
“We’ve been drinking our water,” she said. “My kids drink the water.”
The whole situation is frustrating, she said.
“As long as they keep bringing the bottled water and I don’t have to pay for it, then I guess they are doing what they can do.”
The city is working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Young children, infants and fetuses are particularly vulnerable because the effects of lead in the bloodstream occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child,” the EPA says on its website. “In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.”