Fresh test results from two Lincoln District homes that previously showed high levels of lead in water samples could be available early next week.
Water samples taken from two of the four homes will be tested for lead, but officials are also testing whether the two-minute flush guideline is enough, Chris McMeen, deputy water superintendent for water quality at Tacoma Water, said Friday.
In the coming days, Tacoma Public Utilities will reach out to a handful of others to test for suspected lead connectors. The utility also has plans to eventually expand voluntary water testing to the nearly 1,700 properties suspected to have the lead fixtures.
The lead connectors of concern are called a “gooseneck” — a 2-foot-long curved lead pipe that connects a water main to a service line. Homes built between 1900 and World War II are most likely to have lead gooseneck connectors, TPU has said.
The only way a utility can conclusively tell if a service line has a gooseneck is to dig up the line. Earlier this month, Tacoma Public Utilities tried to devise a less expensive way to find the connector. It tested water in the service lines leading to four homes in the Lincoln District.
The utility found high lead levels in all of them — more than 98 parts per billion in three and almost 400 ppb in a fourth. The Environmental Protection Agency requires action be taken if lead levels exceed 15 ppb.
Three of the homes had a lead gooseneck. A fourth home had high lead levels, too, but it did not have a lead gooseneck.
Subsequent testing of that fourth line showed much lower lead levels in water, McMeen said. He said the property did have a galvanized pipe, and the utility is testing for a host of other metals that might cause problems.
Galvanized pipe “might not be (a concern), and I hope it’s not,” McMeen said. Meanwhile, Seattle is testing lines that may have lead goosenecks to see if there’s an issue, and Everett plans to test water in galvanized iron service lines.
Over the past few decades, TPU has removed around 30,000 goosenecks. Approximately 1,700 remain, or 2 percent of total residential connections.
McMeen said TPU plans to test 10 homes suspected of having gooseneck connectors, and another 10 where the utility knows the connector has already been removed.
TPU crews will go to each house and collect water samples. Test results could be released by early May. These tests could determine how the utility will respond to the remaining suspected lead gooseneck connections, McMeen said.
Thursday, TPU released a rough map of where gooseneck connectors might remain in the system. Few neighborhoods with old homes are immune from the issue. The 10 that TPU will test will come from a variety of neighborhoods, McMeen said.
The utility will then have to verify that a gooseneck is present, likely by excavating the service line, McMeen said: “We likely will try to schedule those for replacement, too.”
State and local health officials advise all residents to run a tap in their homes for at least two minutes if water has been sitting in the pipes for six hours or more before they drink the water. Taking a shower would suffice. Lead can accumulate in tap water the longer it stays stagnant in the pipes.
“We are working on identifying day cares and preschools on the list,” TPU spokeswoman Chris Gleason wrote in in an email. Utility officials verified Thursday that none of the schools in the Tacoma school district are connected to lines with lead goosenecks.
Tacoma Public Schools tests water in a third of its schools each year, district spokeswoman Elle Warmuth said. The News Tribune has filed a request for test results from the past three years.
Health officials say low levels of lead poisoning often do not produce symptoms, but even low amounts in children’s blood are associated with decreased intelligence, reading and learning disabilities, behavioral problems, delayed puberty and slow growth.
So far, 1,600 people have filled out a form online asking if their home has the fixture. Utility spokeswoman Gleason said workers will respond to those queries through the weekend. Those who suspect their home might be connected with a lead gooseneck can call 253-502-8207 or 253-502-8384 or submit contact information to TPU at surveymonkey.com/r/tacomawater.
Staff writer Debbie Cafazzo contributed to this report.