Seattle Public Utilities Confirm Water Safe To Drink After Lead Poisoning Scare

Late last week, Seattle Public Utilities confirmed that they would be testing the water from several homes to determine if toxic lead had leaked into the water supply from old gooseneck fittings on the water service between mains and houses, according to a report from The News Tribune. The city believed that an estimated 2,000 homes were at risk of toxic lead levels in their water supply, of their 650,000 customers.

Lead in local water supplies has been a rising concern since the Flint Water Crisis began two years ago.
Lead in local water supplies has been a rising concern since the Flint Water Crisis began two years ago. [Photo by Sarah Rice/Getty Images]

Now, according to a report from KOMO News, Seattle Public Utilities has confirmed that the city's water is safe to drink, after testing showed lead levels well below allowable federal limits. SPU Drinking Water Quality Manager Wylie Harper was pleased with the results, announced Sunday afternoon.

"This sampling protocol was much more extensive than the standard federal test, and should give customers an added sense of confidence in their water."
The emergency testing began Wednesday, after Tacoma officials found water with lead levels above the allowable limits in four Tacoma homes, believing it to have come from old galvanized (zinc-plated) "gooseneck" pipes installed between 1900 and 1940. Consequently, Seattle Public Utilities asked all residents to run their water for two minutes before drinking while they arranged for the more extensive testing, if they had not run their water in more than six hours. They confirmed that there was no need to stock up on bottled water or otherwise panic; the concern was from lead leaching into standing water in the service pipes, rather than the water supply itself.

According to Tacoma Public Utilities spokesperson Chris Gleason, they had decided "to re-examine any remaining lead materials we may still have in our system" in light of the Flint water crisis, leading them to discover the elevated lead levels in the four homes tested. The results took them by surprise; Tacoma's water has always tested well, but the standard tests are on the overall water supply. They, and the surrounding cities, had never considered this angle before.

The gooseneck fittings were typically used in homes built before 1930, connecting to one-inch diameter or smaller galvanized pipes. The useful lifespan of these galvanized pipes is listed at only 50-70 years before they require replacement, rusting from the inside out and leaking contaminants into drinking water. Since World War II, copper and plastic pipes have become the standard for water services; regardless of a lack of lead contamination, most are well overdue for replacement. But absent of new legislation, the onus is on the homeowner to do so.

Flint began a program last month, called the Mayor's Fast Start, to begin replacing lead water service lines in the city.
Flint began a program last month, called the Mayor's Fast Start, to begin replacing lead water service lines in the city. [Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images]

Seattle Public Utilities ran the more extensive tests on water from five older homes confirmed as having the suspect galvanized gooseneck pipes. After being drawn, the water was allowed to sit overnight. The highest tested lead level was 1.95 parts per billion (ppb), well below the federal allowable limit of 15 ppb.

For the record, allowing time to sit is a vital part of testing water; it is necessary to allow dissolved gases to dissipate.

Derek Pell of the Washington State Department of Health's (DOH) Office of Drinking Water, said in a statement that "Seattle Public Utilities is in compliance with U.S. Department of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations."

As The Seattle Times notes, Everett Public Utilities will also be testing lead levels in their drinking water, even though the city of Everett has already taken steps in the past to eliminate lead pipes and fittings from their water supply. Everett Public Utilities services some 570,000 customers, about 80 percent of Snohomish County.

Meanwhile, both Seattle and Tacoma are compiling maps of local homes they believe to be serviced by galvanized lines with lead gooseneck connectors; a difficult task, as records from that era did not indicate whether a lead gooseneck fitting was used.

Meanwhile, any concerned citizen is encouraged to get their home's water tested -- a typical water test only runs around $25.

[Photo by Matt Mills McKnight/Getty Images]