A Few Small Montana Water Systems Exceeded U.S. Lead Standard

Six small Montana water systems have reported lead levels above federal standards in the past three years

By DAN ELLIOTT, Associated Press

Six small Montana water systems have reported lead levels above federal standards in the past three years, a review of Environmental Protection Agency records shows.

But two said their water is used in restrooms or for an industrial process, not for drinking. Two others said they were on the list because of reporting or sampling errors and that their water was within the EPA guidelines.

An Associated Press analysis of EPA data nationwide found that nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.6 million Americans have exceeded the federal lead standard at least once between Jan. 1 2013, and Sept. 30, 2015. They include 278 systems that are owned and operated by schools and day care centers in 41 states.

While no amount of lead exposure is considered safe, an EPA rule calls for water systems to keep levels below 15 parts per billion.

If more than 10 percent of the samples are above that level, water providers must inform customers about the problem and increase water sampling. In some cases, they must take steps such as adding chemicals to control corrosion and prevent leaching of the lead.

In Montana, the Two Dot Water Users Co., which serves 50 people in Wheatland County, reported a lead level of 28 parts per billion sometime between January 2013 and mid-2015 — the date of the test wasn’t immediately available.

System operator John Crowley said the level dropped to 1.4 parts per billion by October 2015. The reason for the decline wasn’t known. Crowley said he didn’t change the operation.

A water system used for restrooms at the Spring Creek Mine near Decker reported a lead level of 494 parts per billion — 33 times the EPA standard — in 2014. It dropped to 5 parts per billion in two tests last year.

In an email to the Associated Press, Rick Curtsinger, a spokesman for mine owner Cloud Peak Energy, confirmed the unusually high level reported in 2014. He didn’t immediately respond to questions about what caused the spike or how the mine reduced the lead content.

A separate system used for drinking water at the coal mine was within EPA guidelines, he said.

A water system serving Pacific Steel and Recycling in Billings also exceeded the standard once, at 23 parts per billion. Jon Rutt, who operates the system on a contract, said the water is used only in the recycling process and that the company provides bottled water for employees to drink.

Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy in St. Xavier, about 25 miles south of Hardin on the Crow Reservation, reported a lead level of 24 parts per billion in 2014. Executive Director Curtis Yarlott said that turned out to be a sampling error, and a follow-up test showed the level was below the federal standard.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.