Only a small fraction of Tacoma residents who might have unsafe levels of lead in their drinking water have responded to letters sent by Tacoma Public Utilities last week notifying them of their risk, according to a presentation the City Council received Tuesday afternoon.
So far, TPU has received responses to only 108 of the 1,700 letters it sent last week to residences that may have a 1- to 2-foot lead pipe called a lead gooseneck connecting their water service line to the water main. The lead section could expose them to lead in drinking water.
That low response rate may prompt TPU to send another batch of letters,or to visit residences and leave written materials on doorknobs, TPU officials said Tuesday.
“Addressing the problem shouldn’t depend on whether or not someone responds” to the letters TPU sent last week, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.
Among the list of properties is New Adventures Children’s Center, which is run by MultiCare Health System at 1310 S. Fourth St. Parents were notified Tuesday of the potential gooseneck connector.
Workers at the center have begun to test water there, where 25 children ages 3 to 6 years old receive child care, said MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards. The center has bought bottled water for drinking and cooking.
“We are committed to keeping our kids safe in all our locations and to mitigating any possible exposure to unsafe lead levels,” Edwards wrote in a statement. “We are following Tacoma Water’s advice to run the tap for at least two minutes each morning.”
In the coming days, TPU will test 10 more homes thought to have lead goosenecks. Those tests will determine how the utility will evaluate the remaining 1,690 properties.
“Ultimately we plan to make testing available to every one of those 1,700 residences,” said TPU Director Bill Gaines.
Last week, the utility told The News Tribune that tests from four Lincoln District homes showed high levels of lead in the water. Three of those homes had a 1- to 2-foot lead gooseneck. The utility replaced the gooseneck and service line to each home and has since re-tested the water. Those results could be available Wednesday.
Before the goosenecks and service lines were replaced, tests showed lead of 100 parts per billion in three of the four homes, and one home with a lead gooseneck showed a lead level of nearly 400 ppb.
The utility had removed around 30,000 lead goosenecks in prior decades.
The Tacoma Public Utilities board will hear more about the utility’s lead issues at a study session Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Tacoma Water deputy water superintendent Chris McMeen said the utility has offered its help to the district.
“I did check to see what water is being served there (at the school sites) and what the water tests showed,” McMeen said. The acidity of the water, measured on the pH scale, showed normal levels at that time, he said.
Two area laboratories that test household water samples are seeing a brisk increase in business.
Steve Hibbs, lab manager at Spectra Analytical Inc. on the Tacoma Tideflats, said customers are flocking to its doors.
“The sample load in the last few days has been completely over the top,” Hibbs said.
While the company can usually complete a rush order on sample results in one or two days, with this rush of customers it’s taking closer to three or four days.
“It’s different when you have a normal workload, verses 50 people walking in and wanting rushes at the same time,” Hibbs said.
Water Management Laboratories president Christa Garrettson said her South Tacoma lab has received four dozen samples from residents in the past five days. The lab typically tests samples from water districts, well drillers and real estate agents.
Her lab is processing samples as quickly as workers can. A lab worker calls the customer if a sample produces a result higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 ppb, Garrettson said.
Sales of bottled water are up in the Tacoma neighborhoods most affected by the possibility of lead contamination.
Claudia Justice, a customer service representative at the Safeway at South 38th and South M streets, said Tuesday that sales “are up a little bit. I’ve been one of those people buying bottled water.”
A display of bottled water stood near the entrance doors, with three 24-bottle cases of purified water on sale for $10.
At the Safeway nearby on South 56th Street, manager Jeremy Blanksma said sales were up following the news of the presence of lead, “but we were doing well when it was hot. Maybe it was that.”
He said the store has seen “a spike, but not a huge one” in bottled-water sales.
Staff writer C.R. Roberts contributed to this report.
Two state certified labs in Tacoma accept water samples from the general public and are certified to test for lead:
▪ Spectra Analytical Inc., 2221 Ross Way, Tacoma, spectra-lab.com, 253-272-4850.
▪ Water Management Laboratories, 1515 80th St., E., Tacoma, 253-531-3121.
Tacoma Public Utilities board meeting today
The following meetings will be held Wednesday, April 27, at the TPU building, 3628 S. 35th St., Tacoma.
▪ The Tacoma Public Utilities board will hear more about the utility’s lead testing at a 4 p.m. study session. That meeting is held in a third-floor conference room.
▪ Public comment will be accepted at the board’s 6:30 p.m. meeting in the downstairs auditorium.