New study finds high lead levels in Tacoma neighborhood's water supply

KOMO photo

TACOMA, Wash. - A recent study by Tacoma Public Utilities uncovered surprisingly high levels of lead in the city's water supply that could affect nearly 2,000 customers across the city.

According to Deputy Water Superintendent Chris McMeen, the testing of four residential properties started three weeks ago in response to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

On the utility's website, officials explained the recent testing, saying: "Although Tacoma Water's system fully complies with federal lead and copper rule regulations, concerns about components installed in the early 1900s prompted special monitoring and testing beyond the regulation."

The city wouldn't specify which four properties were tested, but tell KOMO News all were located within Tacoma's Lincoln neighborhood near Yakima Avenue and South 38th Street. Each of the properties tested significantly higher than the EPA's action level of 15 parts per billion. In one case, a residential property's lead level tested as high as 400 parts per billion.

Municipal officials attribute the presence of lead to sections of pipes known as "goosenecks." On the city website, the pieces of lead pipe are described as having been used between 1900 and 1940 to connect the water main to customers' service lines.

"These lead pipes could be easily bent and allowed for a flexible connection between these rigid pipes. ... Over time, Tacoma Water has removed an estimated 30,000 of the lead goosenecks while replacing old service connections," the website says.

The city adds, "Although we believe we have removed the vast majority of these lead goosenecks, there are still hundreds of old service connections from this timeframe for which we do not have information. When these lines were installed, details of where lead goosenecks were installed were not recorded."

Wednesday night, Deputy Superintendent Chris McMeen stood by the city's actions following the discovery of lead saying, "We're scouring our records to find homes that may have this same characteristic and we're going to be sampling contacting customers who may have that plumbing. We're going to be testing in their homes with their cooperation obviously so we understand what's happening here, where this lead is coming from and what we can do about it."

Tacoma homeowner Brian Johnson learned Thursday afternoon that his water could potentially contain higher levels of lead. Tacoma Public Utilities released a map showing the homes and businesses that could have lead goosenecks.

"It made me immediately wonder if our house was possibly contaminated," Johnson said.

"Having an old house, you realize there could be some issues. But hearing about it today on the news gave me some concern about family and all that drinking water and if it's fully safe and what effects it could have on us long-term," he added.

Tacoma Public Utilities is encouraging customers who live in older homes to flush stagnant water of their pipes by letting their water run for five minutes every morning. McMeen says the department is in the process of creating a testing program that should be released within the next 30 days. In the meantime, if customers who live in older homes are concerned about the presence of lead, the city encourages them to contact the utility department.

There are also two state-certified labs in Tacoma that accept samples from the general public and are certified to run drinking water samples for lead:

Spectra Analytical Inc.

2221 Ross Way, Tacoma, WA 98421

(253) 272-4850

Water Management Laboratories

1515 80th St. E., Tacoma, WA 98404

(253) 531-3121

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