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Slow going on lead testing for 10 more Tacoma homes

Workers from Tacoma Water replace a galvanized pipe for water service to a home in North Tacoma with copper pipe Thursday. No lead gooseneck fitting was found.
Workers from Tacoma Water replace a galvanized pipe for water service to a home in North Tacoma with copper pipe Thursday. No lead gooseneck fitting was found. dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com

Tacoma Public Utilities has begun the slow work of testing several homes’ water for lead.

Residents’ morning routines are partly to blame for delayed sample collection.

TPU is attempting to collect water samples first thing in the morning, before residents have had a chance to use the water. To get valid water samples for lead testing, water must sit stagnant in household plumbing for at least six hours. If a resident has already used water that day, TPU reschedules sample collection for another day.

It could take TPU some time to compile and report the results, said Chris McMeen, deputy superintendent with Tacoma Water’s water quality division.

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The utility is processing samples “as fast as we can do it, for sure,” McMeen said. “A lot of it does continue to depend on the customers.”

The utility hopes to test 10 homes that Tacoma Water managers suspect have a 1- to 2-foot lead pipe called a gooseneck attached to them. TPU has declined to identify the next round of testing sites.

Earlier tests of water in service lines leading to four homes, three of which had lead goosenecks, showed lead levels 25 times the allowable amount for water systems. Two homes had lead levels around 100 parts per billion — and one showed lead at 400 ppb. The Environmental Protection Agency requires action be taken if lead levels exceed 15 ppb.

“We want to turn data into information that’s meaningful for people,” he said of the delay in results. If there is a spike in lead levels, McMeen said TPU plans to alert the community.

The traditional method of finding goosenecks — digging up the service line — costs several thousand dollars. The utility instead tested water in service lines leading to the homes in an experiment it said was designed to detect the presence of lead goosenecks.

The results from sampling these 10 homes will inform Tacoma Public Utilities on how to proceed with the nearly 1,700 connections across the city that might have the goosenecks, McMeen said.

The utility will sample water at each site several times: Twice from inside the home, once from the service line, and again after the service line and possible lead gooseneck have been replaced.

In-home lead levels dropped at the initial homes tested after TPU replaced a lead gooseneck and its service line, according to test results announced this week.

Late Friday afternoon, Tacoma Water issued a news release saying it would be sending employees to homes and businesses Saturday that may have lead goosenecks and that have not been in touch with the utility. Those same locations already have received letters from the utility. “Mailing letters was a good first step, and going door-to-door will help ensure notification for customers who may not have received or read the letter,” McMeen said in the news release.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

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