Working 4 You: A holes-in-pipes mystery continues to pierce its way through Lonoke County

Special Reports

LONOKE COUNTY, Ark. – A problem the size of a pinhole continues to grow for hundreds of homeowners in Lonoke County.

In the past two years, leaky pipes have resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in damage, and the cause of it all appears to be a murky mystery.

Last month, Nichole Myers, a Cabot resident, gave us a tour of her home, which she barely recognized.

“The flooring, I mean, it ended up with mold,” Myers said while walking through her downstairs bathroom, kitchen and living room.

She found herself facing a second leak repair, forcing furniture and other household items to be temporarily moved into storage or other rooms.

“We are camping out in bean bag chairs,” Myers said. “As of right now we’re at about $65,000 worth of damages.”

She says the leaks are coming from pinholes showing up in pipes. It’s an issue piercing its way through the neighborhood.

Marvin Patterson lives two doors down and has begun to experience similar problems.

“You hear a hissing sound,” Patterson says.

Exposed piping in his home illustrates the restoration work that seems to be inevitable.

“Right now, my damages are under $1,000,” Patterson said in January. “Another friend that I said was across the highway, they’ve spent their life savings re-doing their house.”

Daniel Sallinger says he discovered mysterious holes in his pipes as well. Photos he shared with us show the extensive work that’s underway.

“This is some of the pipe we’ve been collecting,” Sallinger says, holding up a pierced pipe with a visible buildup on the inside where holes are forming.

Sallinger tells us his repair bills have totaled $45,000 so far.

Myers, Patterson and Sallinger all say nearly 200 homeowners just like them are experiencing holey pipes in a small section of Lonoke county and Cabot, but one common denominator is all of them use the city of Ward’s water system.

“They’ve got to find the problem, and they’ve got to fix it because it’s just too widespread,” Myers says.

KARK visited Ward’s city hall to ask the mayor about it.

“It’s frustrating,” Charles Gastineau, the mayor of Ward, says. “It absolutely is frustrating.”

Gastineau empathizes with everyone affected by the holey pipes but disagrees with the theory that his town’s water system is to blame for it.

“If it’s the water, it would have been systemwide, and it’s not,” Gastineau says. “So, we’re talking about a concentrated area in our system.”

He says the pipe leak mystery has actually been reported all over the country. We found similar news articles in New York, California and Florida.

“We’ve done multiple lead copper testing, EPA and Arkansas Department of Health have been on-site taking samples,” Gastineau says.

KARK reviewed test results from the Arkansas Health Department conducted in 2018 and 2020 for the city of Ward, which showed no violations.

Gastineau doesn’t know what the cause is but did mention one other common denominator for the affected homes.

“There’s three major pipelines that run through that area,” Gastineau says. “Could one of those lost what’s called cathodic protection and now leaked out some electricity, and now you have an electrolysis problem? That’s one theory.”

But as of now, there is no solution in sight.

“Today, we don’t have a cause,” Gastineau says. “So, there’s nothing to fix.”

Meanwhile, hopes of an end to costly repairs remain a bit of a pipe dream.

“It’s so overwhelming,” Myers says. “Because there’s so much of it.”

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