Tacoma’s water is safe to drink, city utility officials say.
The declaration from Tacoma Public Utilities came Wednesday, after weeks of testing the water of a dozen Tacoma homes thought to have the short, lead pipes called goosenecks that join the city’s water main to a customer’s water service line.
“The lead levels, whether they have a gooseneck or not, are very, very low,” said Chris McMeen, deputy water superintendent in charge of water quality.
The utility now believes that its early testing methods resulted in artificially high lead levels. TPU is now on an accelerated schedule for replacing lead goosenecks in the city.
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None of the results from the recently tested dozen homes showed lead above 5 ppb, even after water sat stagnant in pipes for six hours or more. The majority of samples tested at 1 ppb or less.
“That to us was great news,” McMeen said.
The Environmental Protection Agency requires action be taken if lead levels exceed 15 ppb. The utility performed two rounds of tests, taking dozens of liters of water samples from each of the 12 homes. The service line at each location was replaced. During that work, crews found goosenecks at half of the sites.
Concern about the short, lead pipes spiked last month after Tacoma Water said water samples taken at the meters outside four other homes showed high levels of lead — roughly between 100 parts per billion and 400 ppb. Subsequent tests inside the homes showed no elevated levels of lead.
McMeen said the utility now believes the act of disconnecting the line, manipulating valves on that meter and deliberately agitating the service line introduced small lead particles into the water line.
“Those particles of lead in a liter of water can give high lead levels,” McMeen said, even if it’s the size of a few grains of salt. “It doesn’t take much to get the kind of numbers we’ve seen.”
It was initially thought that 1,700 locations, about 2 percent of Tacoma Water’s customers, might have lead goosenecks. The utility has since whittled down the number to about 1,200.
The utility has vowed to test water samples from each location if the customer asks for a testing kit. Information will be mailed to those addresses in coming days. By October, the utility will offer water tests to all customers at the utility’s expense.
Tacoma Water had initiated the testing last month in an attempt to devise a way to locate lead goosenecks by checking for the presence of lead in the water. Utility officials have now determined that goosenecks cannot be detected by testing water alone. For that they have to take the expensive step of excavating the service line, which can cost several thousand dollars.
Since Tacoma has no lead service lines, any lead in drinking water is most likely to come from leaded or brass fixtures inside of homes. Lead can leach into water if it’s sitting in those fixtures for a few hours.
After the initial lead scare, utility officials advised residents to flush their water for two minutes, or until the water runs colder, before drinking to ensure all lead is out of the system. Taking a shower would suffice.
And though the utility still advises flushing to improve taste, doing so to remove lead is not necessary as long as residents use water regularly, McMeen said.
“If you are gone for a weekend, I’d flush the plumbing,” McMeen said.
They also advise that if the water is turned off at the meter for whatever reason — say for a kitchen remodel — residents should flush the water for a few minutes to remove any lead that may have been dislodged from disturbing the water meter.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee asked agencies statewide to remove all lead components from large public water systems within 15 years.
Tacoma Water has committed to an accelerated timeline. It will remove all known goosenecks from the system within five years. Goosenecks in Tacoma’s system were installed before World War II.
Replacing those decades-old service lines and water mains “is work we needed to do anyway,” said Tacoma Water Superintendent Linda McCrea. “… Water quality affects all of us, and we take it for granted.”