Letter to the Editor

Letter disputes Globe article

Fellow citizens,

As Director of Public Works and Superintendent of the town’s water distribution system, I felt it necessary to respond to the recent Boston Globe article titled “Problems with lead from aging water pipes extend far beyond Flint”.  This article is very misleading to say the least.  First off, unlike Winthrop, Flint’s water crisis stemmed from a poorly chosen water source that was prematurely activated without any corrosion protection or adequate testing as a means to save money for the city.  The Flint River is a water source with a history of potential hazards and unknown quality as much of its banks were once occupied by Buick’s automobile manufacturing factories.  Because Flint failed to introduce corrosion protection at this new source and adequately test prior to distribution, the corrosiveness of the water caused lead to leach out of the aged pipes and into the water that served that community.

Winthrop, on the other hand, is one of 51 communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) that receives its water from the pristine Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs located many miles west of Boston.  The Quabbin and Wachusett watersheds are naturally protected with over 85 percent of the watersheds covered in forest and wetlands.  To ensure safety, the streams and reservoirs are tested regularly and patrolled daily by the Department of Conservation and recreation.  MWRA water is “lead free” when it leaves the reservoirs, and MWRA and local pipes do not add lead to the water.  Prior to entering Winthrop’s distribution system, water from the reservoirs receives additional state-of-the-art treatment at the John J. Carroll Water Treatment Plant in Marlborough to ensure any pathogens that may be present are rendered harmless and the water chemistry is adjusted to reduce corrosion of lead and copper from home plumbing.  However, even with corrosion control, lead can still get into water through old household plumbing and lead service lines (the pipe that connects the water main in the street to your house) if the water sits stagnant for too long.  For this reason, it is recommended for homes that are served with lead lines to run their water for 1-2 minutes prior to drinking or brushing teeth if water has been unused for more than six hours.  If you do not know if your house has a lead service line, please call the DPW at (617) 846-1341 and press Option 3 and we will gladly provide this information.

To comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead and Copper rule of 1991, Winthrop samples 15 tier-1 residential sites and two education facilities each year to test for lead and copper exceedance.  A tier 1 site is a residential property that is served through a fully lead water service or an education facility that houses children.   The last exceedance for lead in Winthrop was in 2013 at the EB Newton Cultural Center and the situation was quickly corrected with new plumbing and fixtures at that sample site.  What is so misleading about the Boston Globe article is that even if a distribution system has zero lead service lines, a lead exceedance can still occur if the plumbing in a home or business contains old plumbing or soldered joints that contained lead before solder was required to be lead free.  Over the past nine years that I’ve personally managed the Town’s water system, we have removed 750 lead services as part of MADEP mandated removal requirements and removals associated with water main replacement projects.  At this point, Winthrop has approximately 900 full or partial lead services in our distribution system which is comprised of 4,478 service connections.  Winthrop’s water department continues to aggressively remove lead service lines throughout the community as part of our many on-going water main replacement projects and we remain committed to making lead line replacement a priority in future planning.  We also provide free testing for all residents that have full or partial lead service lines and we are committed to converting the town portion of any lead line that tests above 15ppb and we will work with any licensed contractor hired by a homeowner to replace the private portion of their service to ensure that the work is completed safely and properly.

I hope that this information addresses any questions or concerns relative to our water quality and I also hope that it clearly differentiates our town from the crisis occurring in Flint, Michigan.  We are happy and fortunate to have a partnership with the MWRA in our mission to supply our customers some of the best quality water in the country.


Steven R. Calla

Director of Public Works / Water Superintendent

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