County: New chemicals
caused lead taint in IBM
Craig Wolf • Poughkeepsie Journal • June 17,
A change in the chemistry of the water going into
IBM Corp.'s East Fishkill buildings likely contributed
to a surprise finding of lead in drinking water.
A shift to disinfection by chloramines and pipe
protection by orthophosphates from an earlier r
egimen of chlorine and lime appears to be a key,
said Bridget Barclay, executive director of the
Dutchess County Water and Wastewater Authority,
reporting to its directors Wednesday.
"The bottom line is that there are significant
differences in the water that IBM was using" and the
water it's getting now, she said.
That shift came when the agency's water line became
the supply source for drinking water at IBM.
The new chemistry "is the single largest cause of the
increase in lead," Barclay said. A second cause that
apparently contributes is that decreased water flow
at the site lets water sit in pipes longer.
The authority, which transmits water via its Central
Dutchess Water Transmission Line to IBM, gets its
water from the Poughkeepsies' Water Treatment
Facility. That plant uses a different chemical mix
than the one IBM has used for its on-site water
production, Barclay said.
The authority is investigating the exceeding of
federal standards that turned up in routine water
testing done in early 2009 at IBM. Four buildings, o
ccupied by about 475 workers of IBM and some
tenant companies, tested above federal safety limits.
Enough lead can make people sick over time and
tiny amounts can impair a child's mental
development. IBM took drinking facilities offline and
provided bottled water after the discovery.
Jeff Couture, a spokesman for IBM, said in an e-mail,
"Work is continuing to determine the cause of the
lead in the water, but we are not ready to report any
results at this time. We are still providing an
alternate water supply and will continue to do so
until we are sure that the lead levels have been
reduced in the water and can be sustained."
Barclay said IBM found six drinking fixtures that
were on a federal list of fixtures that may allow lead
to leach into drinking water. They are being
removed, she said.
IBM shifted its supply of drinking water from its own
site-produced water after the 2007 opening of the
county water line. The semiconductor
manufacturing site uses its own site water for
making microchips, Barclay said. IBM treats its water
with chlorine and lime. But the new drinking water is
from the Poughkeepsie source and it uses different
The Poughkeepsies' plant, jointly owned by the town
and city of Poughkeepsie, was using chloramines to
disinfect. While chloramines have the benefit of a
longer-lasting effect, they have been implicated as
possible causes of a higher rate of leaching of lead
out of pipe solder or brass fittings. To combat this,
orthophosphate is added to the water to protect the
pipes. Over time, the chemical coats the inside of
the pipes with a protective barrier.
Barclay said, "The Poughkeepsie water treatment
plant has made the case that they have optimized the
orthophosphates." Over time, the use of it may
protect the IBM pipes and end the problem, she
Or the county water line could be fitted out with
gear to add more of the chemical, but at some
capital cost, Barclay said. More frequent flushing of
the lines may be another solution.
A report is due to the Dutchess County Department
of Health by July 1 on the incidences of excess lead,
Barclay said. A draft report is in preparation but has
yet to be signed off by the agency and by IBM, she
Agency Chairman Thomas LeGrand said IBM had
asked the agency to sign confidentiality agreements
before the study.
The board also updated its request to the Dutchess
County government for a $10.7 million water tank to
be installed to support the operation of the water
line, asking that it be included in the county's
Legislator Dan Kuffner noted that even though it
goes through the county, it would be the water
agency that would be fiscally responsible.
Reach Craig Wolf at cwolf@poughkeepsiejournal.
com or 845-437-4815.