CINCINNATI — Lead could be leaking into drinking water without someone even knowing it, but one program that’s aiming to stop that. 

What You Need To Know

  • Cincinnati Water Works filters out lead, but workers said it could still end up in drinking water by running through old underground pipes on private property

  • The water tests for lead in drinking water and chemists said they usually find high levels in older homes

  • Through an enhanced program Cincinnati Water Works will replace old pipes

It takes a lot of workers to keep drinking water clean at Cincinnati Water Works, but there’s only one, self-proclaimed, lead lady.

Dawn Webb, a chemist at the water plant, has been testing the water for 25 years. 

“By the time it enters into what we call the detector, we’re only looking at the lead atoms or lead concentration,” said Webb.

Webb looks for high lead levels that can seep into the drinking water without people knowing it and may make them sick. 

“A lot of times, where we see the higher leads are, the homes that are vacant or don’t have a lot of water usage or things like that,” said Webb. 

The water treatment plant gets rid of the lead when drinking water comes through the plant, but the concern comes in when it’s sent back to homes.

It could get contaminated again before it comes out of a sink, and experts said there’s no way to see, smell or taste the water and tell if the lead is there.

But Jeff Swertfeger, the plant’s water quality superintendent, said pipes must be inspected to tell. 

“If you see a line down in your basement, you just take, like I just have a nickel, or really any metal, and you just take and you scratch that line, and you see how that scratching brings forth a very shiny metal, and it scratches very easy so that’s how I know it’s lead,” said Swertfeger.

It’s part of the reason he said they’ve started an enhanced lead treatment program where they’re changing out old pipes for homeowners 

“We will actually do the contracting and get the work done, and any of the remaining cost customers can pay it off over 10 years interest free,” Swerfeger said. “We really want to get these lead lines out.”

Samples of drinking water may also be sent to the plant if it is suspected there might be lead. It’ll go back to the lab, where the “lead lady” may detect it.

“Each sample has a unique barcode, so it can be tied back to that address,” said Webb.

Results of the amount of lead in the drinking water will be shared and help will be offered to find the best way to get rid of it.