Local town sets example on nationwide problem handling lead, but the fix isn’t cheap

PT. LOOKOUT, Long Island -- It's a nationwide problem that could become a crisis, especially in the tri-state region, if not handled well, and soon, officials said on Thursday.

They said that plans they are now putting in place show how to prevent the worst from happening. Infrastructure was the issue at hand, and in our region, infrastructure tends to be old. As it continues to age, it poses greater hazards.

One strong example of reversing the hazards was demonstrated in this community on Long Island's south shore on Thursday afternoon. The town supervisor joined with other officials and local activists to announce that more than 500 water pipes made of lead will soon be replaced.

The pipes, called goosenecks because of their shape, are about two feet in length, and connect water mains in this hamlet to the homes that house its 1,200 residents. The main water lines do not contain lead, town officials said at a news conference here, but the goosenecks that carry water from the mains into homes are made of the toxic metal.

"That's a dangerous situation," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "Because they easily leach lead into the drinking water."

The nearly century-old pipes have not shown lead leaching above levels permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to local officials. However, they said, an abundance of caution is necessary, and it's why the lead pipes are scheduled to be replaced, starting next month.

"Even if it's safe for now, but might be a risk later, deal with it now," said Laura Gillen, town supervisor for the Town of Hempstead, in which Point Lookout is a hamlet.

Both she and Esposito agreed the approach that the town is taking toward Point Lookout is a template that other towns and cities should look to.

Esposito called it a public health concern "throughout the state of New York and the nation."

Gillen agreed, saying that the Town of Hempstead's case can be duplicated. Her administration applied for and won a New York State grant for $600,000 for the project. Most of those funds will go toward replacement copper pipes, which will be installed by town laborers who will carry out the work as part of their normal duties, with no added cost, according to Gillen.

Considering that lead poisoning can cause life-long health hazards, particularly for children, such as lowered IQ, behavioral issues, and learning disabilities, Gillen said that municipalities have to take action.

"You have to look at the infrastructure you have," the supervisor said. "Make sure that it's safe, and if it's not, address it right away."

Neighbors who spoke with PIX11 News were all unfamiliar with the lead pipe situation prior to Thursday's news conference, but said they were supportive of the solution.

"I didn't know there was lead," said resident Roger Daly, "but if [Gillen is] taking care of it," he said, "that's the proper thing to do."

For her part, Gillen said that the grant money she'd secured for the lead pipe replacement project will cover only about half of its cost. She said that she'd hoped the state would make up the difference by approving another grant of a similar amount.

Still, Gillen said, even if the other half of the project doesn't get the state funding she's hoping for, she could allay any concerns residents might have about the project getting completed.

"We will continue through with this project," she told PIX11 News. "We're not going to let the residents of Point Lookout down. We'll find the money to do it. Hopefully the state will pitch in as well."