Homes in downtown Mays Landing were found to have higher levels of lead than allowable under federal standards during an inspection in June, according to a notice the township’s water authority sent to its customers.

Officials with the Hamilton Township Municipal Utilities Authority, which serves 17,000 customers, said Monday that the high levels were related to a temporary closure of two water tanks, and they are confident the water is back to permitted levels. They also said residents in the affected area were warned in June to take steps to reduce their exposure.

Drinking water tests at seven out of 30 property sites in Hamilton Township in the downtown Mays Landing section, and six out of 10 sites in the Belcoville section of Weymouth Township, were reported above the acceptable standards during the HTMUA’s inspection in June. Lead inspection is required every three years.

The federal drinking water standard for lead is 15 parts per billion. One site in Hamilton Township had a level of 1,110 ppb.

Stephen Blankenship, the MUA’s executive director, said that was a “really high number” and was due to the fact that a line at the site had not been used for quite a few months before the sampling. The next highest recorded amount in the township was 29.60 ppb.

The two highest sites in Weymouth Township were 145 ppb and 121 ppb.

Three years ago, only one site failed testing standards in Hamilton Township, and none of the sites in Weymouth failed.

Blankenship said the authority believes the problem was due to the authority closing for renovations two water tanks that serviced those areas. The tank closings took place between March and July.

The tested areas were receiving water from an alternate tank. Blankenship said they believe the corrosion-control agent, KLENPHOS 300, used to diminish the lead in the water was not potent enough.

The alternate tank was not the source of the lead, Blankenship said. It came mainly from the pipes of the homes themselves. He said they checked homes that were built between 1982 and 1987, when copper pipes that contain lead were routine, he said.

Blankenship said the utility worked with the state Department of Environmental Protection on re-evaluating the amount of the corrosion control agent that should be used. He said he anticipates the water is now at proper levels.

Howard Bratcher, licensed operator for the MUA, said he personally contacted all the residents of homes that tested as having high levels of lead within 30 days, as required by the DEP.

Residents were given tips, such as running faucets 15 to 30 seconds before using their water, and using cold water instead of hot for cooking and baby formula, Blankenship said. Boiling the water does not eliminate the lead, he said.

The MUA is obligated to test 30 sites every three years and is in compliance if 90 percent or more meet the allowable levels. But because of the failed tests, the MUA must test 60 homes twice next year, in February and August, and this month had to send a notice to all of its customers notifying them of the issue. The sites that failed this year will be among those tested in 2013.

Blankenship said he believes the authority will meet the criteria when next year’s tests are done.

The utility said in the letter it is now treating the water chemically as it comes from wells and into the distribution pipes as a way to help reduce how much of the metal leaches into water as it comes through pipes and out the tap. The utility also is removing any lead-based distribution pipes and connections within the system.

The most common way lead comes into the drinking water system is through old lead pipes or exposed joints in metal piping that has been sealed with lead-based solder.

Blankenship said the utility has increased its number of customers from about 2,000 in the year 2000 to about 5,000 customers in 2012. Weymouth’s MUA serves 660 people, according to the EPA database, and has no violations listed. The Hamilton MUA handles all maintenance and problems with customers of the Weymouth authority.

According to the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System database, in June the Hamilton MUA was issued a violation for how it monitored the amount of E. coli in the water system.

Blankenship said water sites were tested for E. coli and the results were negative. However, when the lab reported it electronically to the state, the department did not process the report properly and it was marked late, he said.

Last year, the utility was issued a “complete failure to report” for not issuing a public report on the system. Blankenship said the report was sent on time to the residents but was two weeks late to the DEP.

The only health-based violation in the EPA’s database for Hamilton Township’s water was for exceeding a pH standard four times in the past 10 years. No follow-up action was required.

The HTMUA operates independently from Hamilton Township. Mayor Roger Silva said Monday he was unaware of any issues with the water.

Contact Sarah Watson:

609-272-7216

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Contact Joel Landau:

609-272-7215

Follow @landaupressofac on Twitter