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HomeNewsLocal newsNo Brushing Teeth with Impacted St. Croix Water, Officials Say

No Brushing Teeth with Impacted St. Croix Water, Officials Say

While bathing and showering are safe, V.I. Health officials said this week that upon further investigation, they’re encouraging residents in affected areas on St. Croix to refrain from brushing their teeth with water suspected to contain high levels of lead and copper.

The release, issued by the unified government command overseeing the communication and response efforts, comes on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden’s approval of a federal disaster declaration after potable water tests on St. Croix revealed elevated lead levels more than 100 times the limit set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The approval paves the way for access to additional resources over the following 90 days to tackle the lead problem, which came to light early last month after V.I. Water and Power Authority teams, in coordination with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and EPA, began a new round of testing — outside of routine compliance testing mandated every three years — to determine the source of a brown water problem that had been plaguing the district for months.

After resampling in late October, WAPA officials said that flushing St. Croix’s municipal water pipes for 10 to 13 minutes cleared lead and copper contaminants below federal safety thresholds and plans to continue retesting St. Thomas and St. John were underway.

WAPA Chief Executive Officer Andy Smith has said the EPA’s initial findings came as a “surprise” to the authority and noted that many of the 80 samples collected came from areas in which WAPA water had not been used for long periods of time, up to months.

Water sitting stagnant in a system can have that effect, he’s said, adding that the culprit is believed to be the distribution system and not the water itself, produced by Seven Seas. If the source water was affected, he explained, it would have been found throughout the system rather than contained in pockets.

As officials continue to look into the source of the problem, vouchers for access to clean drinking water have been distributed to at least 1,288 residents in the community, and pediatric blood testing continues in order to confirm preliminary positive test results for exposure to lead among several children.

As of Monday, 390 children have been tested on St. Croix, with zero confirmed cases of lead exposure, according to the V.I. Health Department. However, eight initial positive results are still pending confirmation via further bloodwork, it said.

The federal disaster declaration has also catapulted the story onto the national stage, with the Associated Press running an article Wednesday that raised concerns about the validity of EPA’s method of testing — at the meter instead of at the tap. One expert consulted by the paper said testing from the meter could result in chunks of lead being “ripped” from the box, potentially contaminating the sample.

Tests were conducted again on St. Croix about two weeks ago, with results still to be announced.

Meanwhile, clean water vouchers were distributed to eligible WAPA water customers on St. Croix beginning on Nov. 18. Those vouchers are redeemable at both Pueblo supermarkets, The Market, Blue Mountain Water and Plaza East on St. Croix through Feb. 19, 2024.

Each voucher can be used to purchase water up to $10. Vouchers are not redeemable for cash. There is no cash-back or carry-over balance allowed. Vouchers are to be used to purchase water only. If any approved vendor fails to honor a voucher, residents are asked to contact Property and Procurement at (340) 773-1561 or by email at paymentcertification@vi.gov.

Residents with health concerns related to lead exposure and testing may call Health hotlines at (340) 712-6299 or (340) 776-1519 and Planning and Natural Resources hotline for water sampling concerns at (340) 514-3666 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning Monday, Nov. 27.

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