CHICOPEE — Recent efforts by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and U.S Sen. Edward Markey (D-Malden) have prompted Chicopee to look at their water service lines and cable lines.

In December 2023, the EPA announced it would be significantly strengthening federal standards on lead contamination in the nation’s drinking water.

The main goal of rule revisions is to replace all lead water service lines across the United States by 2035.

Exposure to lead in drinking water can have multiple negative effects and is more damaging to a child’s health than to an adult.

Chicopee received a Lead Service Line Planning grant for $311,500 that will be used for engineering services for the development of a lead service line inventory and replacement plan.

Mayor John Vieau added, “We are in the process of creating a plan that will allow us to evaluate all of our drinking water lines and creating an inventory. We are going to be doing this, all the materials, roughly 17,000 water services in Chicopee will all be available on GIS. The type of pipe and we will have to address that once we get the plan completed.”

DPW Superintendent Elizabette Batista also talked about how this grant will be utilized to explore the material of the water pipes.

“None of our water mains are lead pipe. For a city of our age and our size, it’s not expected that we are going to have a significant number of water services that are actually lead so this is grant is enabling for us to work with our consultant and staff to develop a plan identifying all the houses that could potentially have lead service lines going through all of our service cards that could date back several, several years,” Batista said.

She added, “There may also be some exploratory work, exposing the service to see what the material is and this is a real big push by EPA and DEP to eliminate all lead service pipes being used for drinking water.”

When Markey visited Chicopee on Feb. 5, he called for telecommunication companies to address the health hazards from aging telecommunication lines with lead-sheathing.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article that discussed the dangers of lead sheathed cables with increased lead exposure to lineman and those exposed to lead from the cables.

Vieau added, “I wanted the public to know that this goes back to the early 1900s when telecommunications really were lead line predominantly for telephone conversations. They used lead sheathing to insulate and protect the wires.”

Markey was joined by the local state legislative delegation to discuss the issues and risks to union workers and residents.

Vieau said, “Certain levels of lead can be dangerous, and we don’t want anyone such as kids to get anywhere near that lead. If it gets on your shoes, the residual can be spread around and you think of the utility guys working with and being exposed to lead.”

Vieau said that Chicopee Electric Light has not used and proactively removed lead sheathed cables, but many telecommunication companies have not.

Over time, the residual from the lead ends up in the ground under the wires.
Testing was performed at five different locations under a lead sheathed wire and a one hot spot was detected.

Markey explained that this is a national issue with old telecommunication lines and wants to bring attention to the dangers of potential lead exposure.

Vieau added, “It’s a national problem so they are asking those telecommunication companies that still have lead to remediate it. The concern is who is going to take it down and when. It’s not a Chicopee problem, it’s not a Western Massachusetts problem, it’s not a commonwealth problem, it’s a country problem.”

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