By Ed Runyan, Kalea Hall
and Amanda Tonoli
Michael Mariano of Perkinswood Boulevard Southeast said he didn’t know that the three highest lead readings found during testing of Warren’s water in the past seven months have come from the two-block area near where he lives.
He found that out Sunday when The Vindicator gave him the results of the water testing the newspaper carried out free of charge for residents of 36 homes on Warren’s east side.
Mariano’s reading was 20.1 parts per billion, which exceeds the 15 ppb level considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 5 ppb.
Homes in Mariano’s neighborhood have been registering among the highest lead readings in the Warren Water Department service area for a decade or more, but the city was not required to tell Mariano about it because the city never tested Mariano’s house. The Vindicator did.
The city notified the two other home-owners on his street that their readings were above 15 ppb because their readings came from a sample the city carried out during routine testing last summer. The home at 667 Perkinswood had a reading of 64 ppb, and the one at 814 Perkinswood had a reading of 18 ppb. The home at 667 Perkinswood is owned by Adam Basile, an employee of the Warren Water Filtration Plant.
The Vindicator carried out its own testing after learning that Warren’s routine testing indicated that the two highest readings were close to each other on Perkinswood, but the city never took any action, not even to notify Perkinswood residents.
Mariano, whose home was built in 1947, wishes the city would have told him.
“I pay them enough in taxes. I’d like them to do something,” he said.
Mariano, who bought the home in 2006, is not alone. Several other Perkinswood residents have expressed dismay in recent weeks at being left in the dark of a potential health hazard - lead poisoning - that has been shown to cause brain damage in children, among other health problems.
Mariano thanked The Vindicator for giving him the results of his test, the results of other homes nearby and providing him with information on things he can do to reduce the amount of lead in his drinking water.
“I’m going to run the water more and drink the bottled water,” he said, adding that he has always used a lot of bottled water, primarily because he prefers the taste.
After The Vindicator published an article Jan. 31 about the two high lead readings last summer on Perkinswood and lack of notification about it, city officials held a press conference at City Hall, telling people that lead service laterals leading from the city’s water mains to the homes are sometimes a reason for high lead readings. Lead can leach out of lead lines and get into the drinking water, officials said.
Franco Lucarelli, Warren utilities director, said anyone with concerns should find out if they have a lead service line or plumbing, have their water tested if they do, and run cold water only from the tap for up to two minutes to reduce the amount of lead they consume.
Not all of the tested homes on Perkinswood had an elevated reading.
Ruth Walters breathed a sigh of relief when she discovered the water test results for her Perkinswood home were below detectable lead levels.
“I was so nervous. I thought, ‘What’s the next step? What if we get a terrible reading?’” Walters said.
Walters said when she found out a neighbor’s house had high levels, she thought she was doomed.
“This is an old house built in the 1930s. ...Tests should be done all inclusively, the whole street. They [officials] know how old these houses are,” Walters said.
Patti Anderson’s six grandchildren are constantly in and out of her home at 458 Perkinswood Blvd. SE, which is why she didn’t hesitate to say yes when Vindicator reporters knocked on her door to test her water.
On Friday, she was very thankful to know her test came in below 5 ppb.
“It’s great that you are doing these kind of tests,” she said.
Anderson was concerned about her water after she heard about the high lead level found in water from a house on her street and because her house was built in 1925.
The city never informed her of the 64 reading at 667 Perkinswood, she said.
“I think they [need to] make people aware of what they are finding,” Anderson said.
Jeff and Toni Rollison of Woodbine Avenue Southeast also are learning about water quality through news coverage and a personal visit by The Vindicator.
They were told that the 8.44 ppb reading at their house was below the federal limit of 15 ppb, but it was the third-highest among the 36 homes The Vindicator tested. Cardinal Environmental Labs of Youngstown processed the samples and provided the results.
After reading coverage in The Vindicator, Jeff checked the service line coming into his house and believes it isn’t lead. But he called the city’s water department to ask whether his water comes from a lead service line under the street and was told the water department doesn’t know.
He’s thinking about buying a water treatment system to remove lead, even though he’s seen no evidence that the water has caused health problems for his family.
“We’ve been here 44 years, so if something was really wrong, I’d have an eyeball hanging out,” Jeff said.
When he called the water department to ask about a water test just before The Vindicator offered one, the city gave him phone numbers of two companies that would do it at Jeff’s cost. Cardinal charges $20, and Alloway charges $25.
“I wanted to have it tested – the reason I wanted you to run the test – is because of the kids. There’s a lot of kids in this neighborhood,” he said.
Leeann Mazza of 1025 South St. SE says she started trying to educate herself on lead in her Warren drinking water in recent weeks like much of the rest of the country after learning about problems with lead levels in the water in Flint, Mich., and Sebring.
“We started to drink bottled water and jugs because it was a concern of ours, definitely,” she said when The Vindicator visited her last week to deliver the results of her testing.
It showed she had a reading of 5.66 ppb, which is about a third of the 15 ppb level considered dangerous by the EPA and U.S. CDC.
Health officials say lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women, infants and children. Because of concerns about it, lead-based paint was banned in 1977, and leaded gas was phased out in 1986.
According to the CDC, “because no safe blood level has been identified for young children, all sources of lead exposure for children should be controlled or eliminated.”
Mazza has two children, ages 4 and 2, and has lived in her home on South Street near ValleyCare Trumbull Memorial Hospital for a year.
“We’re really glad we do know,” she said of her results.
Mazza has always taken water straight from the tap and consumed it. But she’s noticed that her boyfriend, who grew up with well water, has always let the water run a little while before drinking it.
The Vindicator visited 36 homes on the east side of Warren on Friday to give residents the results of their water testing. The process began Feb. 9 and 10, when The Vindicator sent six staff members to the east side with water-testing kits to give away and instructions on how to fill them — in the morning or some other time when the home’s water has not been used for at least six hours.
In addition to the 64 ppb result and 18 ppb result on Perkinswood, the city’s results last summer included one of 14 ppb at 1214 South St. SE.
The Vindicator’s results were similar to ones produced by the city.
Aside from Mariano’s result, The Vindicator found 35 that were below 15 ppb, but 10 were between 5 and 10 ppb. In the city’s testing, there was only one result between 5 and 10 ppb.
At the press conference, Lucarelli speculated that the reason Adam Basile of Perkinswood had a 64 ppb reading is because he doesn’t use a lot of water. Basile told The Vindicator his readings are high because he has a lead service line.
After The Vindicator made a public records request more than two weeks ago, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency provided The Vindicator with Warren’s lead-testing results for the past 10 years.
They showed that the homes at 667 and 814 Perkinswood that had high readings last summer have had consistently high readings over the decade. The home at 667 Perkinswood had a 47 ppb reading during summer 2013.
The home at 814 Perkinswood that had an 18 reading last summer had a reading of 15 in summer 2013.
In 2008, the numbers spiked – with 12 homes out of 90 having readings above 15, including a 43 reading at 814 Perkinswood.
As a result, the OEPA required the city to test 60 samples during the second half of 2011 and first half of 2012 and conduct a corrosion-control study to determine how to bring the lead numbers down. Those efforts were successful: The city had no numbers above 15 in 2012, and it was allowed to step down to 30 samples annually in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Toni Rollison of Woodbine Avenue says she’s always consumed water from the kitchen faucet without letting it run first and can’t imagine changing that habit.
But many other people who received their test results Friday said they’ve been skeptical of the quality of drinking water for many years. For some, it seems to be related to the habits they established early in life.
A woman, 55, of Bonnie Brae Avenue Southeast, whose lead level was measured at 6.08 ppb, said she stopped drinking residential tap water in her late teens, when she moved into a house with well water.
“I’ll keep using the bottled water,” she said after receiving her water results, adding that she even takes bottles of water with her when she goes to restaurants.
“When my grandkids come over, I say, “Get bottled water out of the refrigerator,’” she said.
Now that she knows there is lead in her water at home, she’ll have to think about using bottled water for cooking, she said, adding, “I don’t want toxins in my food.”
Another reason she doesn’t trust Warren’s water at her home of 12 years is that the water department sent her a letter more than a decade ago telling her the pH (acidity) level was high. Her water also has had a “milky” appearance on and off over the years she said.
Mike Pachuta’s rented house at 990 Dana St. had the second-highest reading in The Vindicator’s lead water test.
His water test came in at a level of 9.85 ppb, which was concerning to him.
Pachuta said he would alert his landlady, but he would like to see more-thorough testing of lead levels in water done.
“I think they really need to,” he said.
Karen Cunningham, 625 Meadowbrook Ave. SE, said she was relieved her water was below the acceptable 15 ppb lead level, despite still having the fourth-highest reading in The Vindicator’s lead water test.
“It’s just too expensive to fix or look into,” Cunningham said.
Elaine Taylor of 614 Meadowbrook Ave. SE was happy to hear her water was below the level of 5 ppb.
“It’s nice to know whether you’ve got lead in your water,” Taylor said.