The Issue: Water lines, possibly contaminated by lead, will be replaced along Eighth Street

Our View: Working to eliminate a potential health danger is the right thing to do

The surface of Eighth Street soon will go from awful to awesome. Crews will begin ripping up the potholed pavement on Monday.

We're all excited about the prospect of a smooth east-west artery to help carry commuters between home and work. At the same time, we're anxious about the traffic gridlock that certainly will result from the street's summer-long closure. When Eighth Street reopens in autumn, we'll all smile as our schedules and tires breathe a sigh of relief.

While the pavement is torn up, workers will perform another necessary infrastructure upgrade — one that isn't visible from the surface, but is even more important for our community's health. Eight galvanized steel water lines, possibly contaminated with lead, will be replaced.

Upgrading those lines will be costly. But it's the right thing to do.

No safe blood level of lead in children has ever been identified, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any level is dangerous.

Tap water tests in Traverse City routinely show low lead levels. Art Krueger, the city's director of municipal utilities, said required tests in 2018 showed four parts per billion, below the current DEQ action level of 15 parts per billion.

But the city is taking action on the eight lines below Eighth Street. New state requirements dictate that it must.

Michigan in June 2018 — in the wake of the Flint water crisis — adopted the strictest rules in the U.S. to keep lead out of drinking water. Among the rules is a requirement that public water suppliers replace, beginning in 2021 and finishing 20 years later, galvanized steel pipes that are or were connected to lead pipes.

Lead particles long can remain on the corroded inner surface of galvanized steel pipes, creating a potential danger for years.

Doing the work while Eighth Street already is under construction is the sensible course of action.

Traverse City began phasing out lead water pipes in the 1940s. Most lead connecting pipes along Eighth Street were removed in the 1950s. Two lead goosenecks still remain in the city, including one under Eighth Street that will be removed this summer. There's little chance that any stray lead remains in galvanized steel pipes elsewhere in the city's water system, Krueger said.

But it's a good idea to remove any line that could contain a lingering lead hazard. Taking such pipes out of Traverse City's water system is the right thing to do.