Water in Three Rivers exceeds EPA lead limit

The City of Three Rivers recently found more lead service lines while conducting a test of tap water in homes for lead and copper in accordance with the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act. In the first round of collecting first and fifth liter samples from 47 homes, six homes had results over 15 parts per billion (ppb), the federal limit for lead contamination.

According to a press release from City Manager Joe Bippus and Public Services Director Amy Roth, The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) evaluates compliance with an action level based on the 90th percentile of lead and copper results collected in each round of sampling.

The lead 90th percentile for the city’s water supply is 19 ppb, which exceeds the action level of 15 ppb. The “action level” is a measure of corrosion control effectiveness; it is not a health-based standard. The goal for lead in drinking water is 0 ppb, and there is no safe level of lead in the blood. Lead can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells, and is especially dangerous for children, infants and fetuses.

When more than 10% of homes tested have results over 15 ppb, an “action level exceedance” is triggered. This means additional actions must be enacted including educational outreach to customers, ongoing sampling every six months, assessing the corrosivity of the water, and service line replacement.

The press release from Bippus to the citizens of Three Rivers states homes with lead service lines have an increased risk of having high lead levels in drinking water, and the more time water has been sitting in a home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. Residents with lead service lines are advised to run water for at least five minutes to flush water from the home or building’s plumbing, and additional flushing may be required for homes that have been vacant or have a longer service line. Homes without a lead service line are advised to run water for 30 seconds to two minutes, or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature. 

The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency (BHSJ CHA) is working in conjunction with the Three River’s Department of Health and Human Services, and EGLE to support the action level exceedance notification. In a press release from BHSJ CHA Health Officer Rebecca Burns said, “Our agency is prepared to assist the city and the residents to support the health of the community. In collaboration with the Department of Public Services, our agency will be a distribution point for residents who are on the city’s water system. We commend the city for their collaboration and partnership in this process. We understand that residents will have concerns, our agency stands together with our partners to support you.”

Environmental Health Director Paul Andriacchi said the City of Three Rivers will be working with EGLE as they have oversight for municipal water systems. “Our Environmental Health and Clinical Services teams will continue to provide the services residents have come to expect, in addition to supporting the city with filter distribution and education,” he said. 

BHSJ CHA will launch filter distributions on Tuesday, August 8 from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. at 1110 Hill Street in Three Rivers. The City of Three Rivers will also begin distribution on that same day at the Department of Public Services (1015 S. Lincoln Ave.) from 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. To be eligible for a filter, residents must:

  • Have a child living in or frequently visiting the home, who is under the age of 18
  • Have a pregnant person living in the home
  • Be a resident of the city, on the city’s water system


  • A recipient of Medicaid or WIC services
  • You attest that you cannot afford to purchase a filter at a store

Residents must bring a driver’s license or photo ID to confirm residency in the city, or a copy of their city water bill if no license or photo ID is available. Filters will be distributed one per household, and houses that have multiple units will be provided one filter per apartment unit. Filters will either be a PUR filter that attaches to the end of a standard kitchen faucet, or a BRITA filtering water pitcher.

Additional information regarding lead, using the filters, and the health effects of lead is available on the BHSJ CHA website, or on the Michigan Lead Safe website

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.