New test results released Monday from three Tacoma homes show low lead levels. However, officials await conclusive results.
These most recent test results are from “non-stagnation samples,” said deputy water superintendent Chris McMeen. Tacoma Public Utilities collected water in the middle of the day from three homes, likely after people had begun to use water.
Last week, Tacoma Water reported elevated levels of lead from four water service lines leading to the homes, three of which included a 1- to 2-foot lead connector called a gooseneck. The lead in the samples far exceeded the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. One sample tested as high as 400 ppb of lead. Since then, lead goosenecks and the service lines leading to the water meters at those three homes have been replaced.
“We wanted to verify that the replacement of the gooseneck was sufficient to address the problem of (lead in) the water they are getting,” McMeen said.
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In the non-stagnation samples, each home’s water tested at less than 1 ppb of lead. McMeen said he wants to reserve judgment until the utility can test water that’s been sitting stagnant in pipes for six hours or more. Stagnant samples were collected last week, and results could be available this week.
“It’s not sufficient to declare victory,” McMeen said of the non-stagnation test results. “If they had all come back bad, I would’ve been pretty bummed.”
Lead can accumulate in water that’s remained stagnant. The utility advises residents to “flush” water lines before drinking water for at least two minutes, which could include taking a shower or opening taps until the water runs colder.
Testing stagnant water is important because “it’s about trying to capture that worst-case (scenario) and if people don’t follow the advice (to flush water from plumbing), that’s the water they get,” McMeen said.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s water utility conducted “extensive” tests over the weekend on five homes. Each had a 1-in-4 chance of having a lead gooseneck, but the utility said it found no lead problems.
Since April 20, Tacoma Public Utilities has provided bottled water to residents of the three homes it is testing until more lead results come back from the lab and Tacoma Public Utilities can analyze the information.
Residents at the three homes began using bottled water Wednesday, the day Tacoma Water told customers that some 1,700 homes and businesses might be connected to the water system with lead goosenecks.
“We did provide bottled water just as a cautionary step for the first set of (tested) homes,” McMeen said Monday morning. A fourth house that was in the initial round of testing did not have a lead gooseneck, but still registered high lead levels. That house is vacant.
The utility is forming a plan to test all 1,700 locations. Among those could be a South Tacoma preschool. Utility customers in that group received a letter over the weekend. Utility spokeswoman Chris Gleason said TPU is also looking at whether any unlicensed day cares are served by lines that have a lead gooseneck.
On Monday morning, water department employees were taking water samples from inside Andrea and Karl Berger’s house.
According to the couple, who live on Tacoma Avenue South, they had the highest level of lead found in water flowing into any house in the initial tests. “Which was startling,” Andrea Berger said. “We’re drinking that every day.” TPU officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Results from the inside the house — there were two tests last week — have yet to come back.
“I know when people hear lead, it freaks everyone out,” Berger said.
Bounding around the house on Monday was their 3-year-old son, Avery. They had him tested last week. Andrea called for results Monday morning.
Avery was negative for lead.
“That was very reassuring,” Berger said.
But Berger called the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department for more information. She was told that testing for her husband and herself wouldn’t be necessary.
Still, she’s considering it.
“Just for peace of mind,” Berger said.
The Bergers, who bought the house in 2013, drink tap water every day.
“Everything I cook, all my soups, are water from the tap,” Berger said. “I never thought anything of it. Our water tastes fine.”
Avery drinks tap water every day, and Berger estimates that she drinks a gallon of water a day from the tap.
Though the gooseneck has been replaced, lead could still be coming into the house from other sources.
“They’ve asked us not to use our tap water until the results come back,” Berger said. “They’ve supplied us with tons of water.”
With these water tests on three homes, McMeen said the utility also is verifying whether two minutes is enough time to flush lead in water from a home’s plumbing.
Students and staff at Mann and Reed elementary schools in Tacoma are drinking bottled water after administrators unearthed test results from last year showing elevated levels of lead. One test from Reed Elementary showed lead levels at 2,330 ppb — more than 155 times the EPA action level of 15 ppb. Tacoma Public Schools notified parents Monday.
Staff writer Debbie Cafazzo contributed to this report.