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Using Compliance Data to Understand Uncertainty in Drinking Water Lead Levels in Southwestern Pennsylvania

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journal contribution
posted on 08.07.2020, 21:43 by Sara E. Schwetschenau, Mitchell J. Small, Jeanne M. Vanbriesen
The historical use of lead in potable water plumbing systems has caused significant public health challenges. The Lead and Copper Rule requires utilities to take action if the 90th percentile lead concentration exceeds the action level (AL) of 15 ppb. Assessment of the AL is based on a sample of homes representing a relatively small fraction of connections. Due to the intentional nonrepresentative sampling approach, the full set of conditions influencing lead concentrations in a large distribution system may be poorly characterized. Further, there is uncertainty in assessing statistical parameters such as the 90th percentile concentration. This work demonstrates methods to compute the uncertainty in the 90th percentile statistic and assesses the associated effect on compliance outcomes. The method is demonstrated on four utilities in southwest Pennsylvania (referred to as A, B, C, and D). For Utility A, evaluation of the 90th percentile showed an increase over time in observed and estimated values and the value’s uncertainty. This type of change in the uncertainty might have served as an early warning of the exceedance that followed. This could have triggered more timely review of operational changes in order to avoid the effects of noncompliance on utility costs and consumer confidence.