| Lead Poisoning Prevention Week Oct 23-29
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Lead Poisoning Prevention Week Oct 23-29

With headlines about lead in drinking water shaking consumer confidence in communities across the country, the 2016 Lead Poisoning Prevention Week provides a ready-made opportunity for water utilities to communicate with customers about the issue.

The observance -- created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- runs from Oct. 23-29. Historically, its primary focus has been awareness of risks like lead-based paint and contaminated soil and dust. But in the aftermath of the crisis in Flint, there will be expanded messaging on potential risks associated with lead in water.

“Water utilities across the U.S. have seen how much interest and concern have arisen among their customers from the experience in Flint,” said Peter Grevatt, director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water for EPA. “In conjunction with increased awareness, because messaging for the week will include a focus on drinking water, utilities can expect more requests for information than they have in the past.”

AWWA has distributed a radio public service announcement -- available in both English and Spanish -- that will run during and following Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. It reminds consumers that they can play a role in keeping water safe by understanding and addressing potential sources of lead exposure. The PSA is also available to utilities on the AWWA web site to place locally as desired.

The Association’s board voted unanimously this spring to support the recommendations of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council for improvements to the Lead and Copper Rule, emphasizing that public health protection is AWWA’s first core principle.

“Part of that commitment implies that we actively communicate with consumers, and about lead in particular,” CEO David LaFrance wrote in a widely distributed column. “So even if there are plans to remove all lead service lines in the future, consumers should understand how to protect their families today. Homeowners should know how to determine if they have lead service lines, the benefits of removing those lines, and the steps to protect themselves and their families from all sources of lead exposure from water.”

The EPA and CDC websites carry many materials to help utilities observe Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, including posters, flyers, icons and web banners.

Consumers may also want to know more about drinking water systems, Grevatt said, and whether their own utility has adequately managed corrosion control and complies with the LCR.

“This is a very important time to make sure the messaging is clear and accessible to the public,” Grevatt said of utility communication. “In instances where information is not readily available, it can lead to greater concern on the part of the public. Utilities can increase public confidence by making sure they are ready to answer the public’s questions.”

This year’s theme, “Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future,” includes four goals for consumers: Get your home tested, get your child tested, learn about drinking water, and understand the facts.

Grevatt encouraged utilities to reach out to their customers during Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

“Rather than waiting to see whether they get calls, I’d encourage utilities to proactively share information about lead in drinking water in their community,” Grevatt said.

“Utilities should consider sharing information on their utility website or if they have educational materials, they can make sure the people know where they can get them.”

A theme EPA wants to convey, Grevatt said, is the value of transparency.

“We know across the country, the vast majority of utilities have a strong commitment to public service and public health protection,” Grevatt said. “We encourage them to be open about what they know – that will help build a strong relationship between utilities and the public.”