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Tacoma Public Utilities and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department team up for lead response effort

April 25, 2016

Residents to benefit from clear, consistent and reliable information on water quality concerns

Public health working with local water utility on testing protocols, protecting water quality, combined communication efforts.

TACOMA, Wash. – Tacoma Public Utilities and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department are teaming up to respond to community concerns related to the recent discovery of elevated lead levels in water samples from pipes outside four customers’ homes.

The utility will work closely with its local public health partners to establish joint goals and objectives and ensure the public has clear information. A combined planning and response strategy developed late last week will strengthen efforts already underway to address any public health concerns regarding possible water quality issues.

The state Department of Health regulates Tacoma Water and will have a technical support role in the combined planning and response effort, including providing guidance on water sampling strategies and protocols.

“Our public benefits from clear, consistent and reliable information when it comes to a possible threat to our local water quality,” said Bill Gaines, director of Tacoma Public Utilities. “We value the support of our public health partners, and our combined planning efforts will help us better serve and communicate with our customers.”

Tacoma Water sent letters April 22 to the 1,700 homes and businesses that may have lead goosenecks—short pieces of pipe connected to the water main. Goosenecks may have contributed to the higher lead levels found in pipes leading to four houses. Aging pipes in structures built up to the early 1940s are the primary source of concern. Over the past 30 years, Tacoma Public Utilities has replaced about 30,000 lead goosenecks and galvanized steel pipes that connect meters to the water main.

Tacoma Water will provide more information to people who received the letters about plans for water quality testing, which the utility will pay for, when they are available. People who live in these older homes should run their taps for at least two minutes before drinking or preparing food with the water.

Water not a typical source of lead exposure in the state
Lead-based paint, dust and contaminated soil are usually the most significant sources of lead exposure. In the area of the Tacoma Smelter Plume, lead contamination of the soil is a health concern. Residents should learn more about the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Dirt Alert program to find out if they should have their yard tested for lead.

Water is not a major source of lead exposure in our state, but older plumbing fixtures can be a source of possible contamination.

“Around the state, public health understands that it will take time to find and replace aging pipes that could be a source of lead contamination,” said Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH, director, Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. “The utilities and public health system are working together to minimize the risk of lead exposure.”

While Tacoma Water is narrowing its focus on the impacted customers, public health is responding to concerns the initial testing results raise for water users all over the county, and beyond. The combined response effort will also allow for information sharing with surrounding water systems.

“The local health department regulates smaller public water systems in Pierce County, and we are actively engaged with them to gain a better understanding of their water and potential health risks from lead,” said Chen.

About Tacoma Water:
Tacoma Water is one of Tacoma Public Utilities’ three divisions. It has a proud tradition of operating and maintaining one of the United States’ oldest municipally owned water systems. We provide high-quality water at competitive prices.

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department:
Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. Learn more at

Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager
(253) 798-2853(253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822(253) 405-6822 (cell/text),
Chris Gleason, Tacoma Public Utilities, Community & Media Services Manager
(253) 502-8222(253) 502-8222, (253) 223-2293(253) 223-2293,

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