ABC 6 News Investigates: Olmsted Co. Officials say Lead Filters Weren’t Changed Properly

November 16, 2016 07:37 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- Because of an ABC 6 News investigation, county officials say changes are being made in the way the county monitors lead in the water and how it is working to bring those levels down.

But it has also found the problem is bigger than expected.


Helen Monsees is Olmsted County’s director of facilities and building operations. She's been working these past few months to figure out where lead is in the water of some county buildings and how to get rid of it.

“We’ve known for quite a while that there is lead contamination in the water,” said Monsees.

In March, we aired our investigation that showed the county and the Minnesota Department of Health were no longer checking point-of-use water sites at some county buildings that had showed lead contamination in the past. Those sites include buildings on Campus Drive in Rochester and the Federal Medical Center.

After our initial investigation aired, Michael Staudinger reached out to us.

"It's not right that they know about the lead problem. Why should they not take care of the issue as far as changing the filters?” Staudinger asked. “That, I don't understand."

He was staying at a transitional living facility at Olmsted County's 2118 building. His water filter hadn't been changed in 2 years, despite needing to be changed every 6 months.

"As a result of some of the work that you actually had done, we actually found that in some of the areas we missed changing those filters," Monsees said.

Monsees says the oversight has been corrected and changes have been put in place to prevent it from happening again.

But now, there's another issue she is dealing with.

The county tested many sites for lead over the summer, including some newer buildings like the Olmsted County Government Center. Some of those tests were positive for lead contamination.

"So what we realized is that the problem we've been experiencing is not just confined to those older buildings," Monsees said.

Many people have reached out to us wondering if they should be concerned.

Pete Giesen, Olmsted County’s director of public health, says it's important to remind employees and the public of the "let it run" program, which asks people to run the water for 30 seconds up to 2 minutes before using the water. Test results show letting the water run significantly reduces the contaminant in the water.

The lead can come from older pipes and faucet fixtures.

"It's very important that the employees are informed of the lead situation, mainly because we know there is no such safe level for lead," Giesen said. "Actually it was a surprise to see relatively new fixtures show high levels of lead. So, it was news to us."

The county says it will now continue to monitor the lead levels at county buildings.

“Our tests are all a bit inconclusive,” Monsees said. “We still can’t say definitively what’s causing the problem.”

While Olmsted County says its working to stay on top of the lead levels, another site, the federal prison in Rochester says it has also made a change.

Back in March, a prison employee told us some of the "let it run" signs had come down and the prison wasn't following all of the state's guidelines. Prison officials say that it continues to follow the guidance provided by the Minnesota Department of Health.


Megan Stewart

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