High lead found in one Quilcene home; water system not contaminated
by Chris McDaniel, originally posted on May 14, 2016
QUILCENE — The Jefferson County Public Utility District is working with the state Department of Health after lead contamination was found in the water of one Quilcene Water District customer’s home in 2014.
The contamination was found to be from the homeowner’s pipes and not the water district that serves 97 customers.
However, the PUD still must take action to ensure the pH balance of all water in the system remains at such a level as not to corrode the pipes further in this home, which would cause more lead to leach from it, said Derrick Dennis, Office of Drinking Water Quality section manager for the Department of Health.
The water itself — supplied from a single well located on the grounds of the National Forest Service ranger station in Quilcene — is not contaminated, said Barney Burke, Jefferson County PUD board member.
In 2014, the Quilcene system’s source met or exceeded all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington state drinking water health standards, according to a Quilcene Water Quality Report released in 2015.
The state Department of Health requires public water systems to collect samples from residential customers and treat the water when more than 10 percent of samples exceed the action level of 0.015 parts per million.
According to the water quality report released by the PUD, lead was detected in the plumbing of several homes in Quilcene.
Dennis said water samples were collected at five homes on the system in 2014.
One contained lead above approved levels, he said.
The water in that home contained 0.056 parts per million (ppm) of lead, while the next highest sample contained 0.003 ppm, he said.
Subsequent readings “have been lower, and we are monitoring that,” said Burke.
“If they get below the action level for two six-month periods, they can go to a normal monitoring schedule of tap samples,” Dennis said.
When a system is sampled, “they don’t sample every home on the system,” Dennis said.
“They are trying to target homes that would have the highest likelihood of lead in their water.
“Every house is different,” he added. “You may have remodeled your home, your home might be older [or] you might have nostalgic plumbing fixtures in your house because they look really cool, but they might have high-lead brass.”
When lead contamination is found, the state ensures water distributors “are doing what they need per regulations to make sure they are addressing the issue,” Dennis said.
That is the case here, with the PUD having informed water users on the system and taking action to address the issue, Burke said.
Adjusting pH balance
Although the source of lead contamination was the home’s plumbing and not the water source, the PUD is required to ensure that water is not too acidic.
“Water is a very powerful solvent,” Dennis said.
“If you took a non-galvanized nail and left it outside for a long time, and it rains, it is going to get rusty,” he said.
“It is interacting with the metal and breaking it down. It is the same thing that happens with the plumbing within your home.”
And while water distributors are “not responsible for what is going on in the home or the plumbing in the home, they are responsible for how the water they produce interacts with that plumbing, and that is where they need to control corrosion potential of their water,” Dennis said.
“The state has been working with water systems for a lot of years to help them get to a place where their water isn’t corrosive or acidic,” added Carolyn Cox, state Office of Drinking Water Quality public information officer.
Five at one time
Of the five sites found to have high levels of lead in Jefferson and Clallam counties between 2012 and 2015, only the one Quilcene home continues to test high, Dennis said.
“There is a total of 95 [public] systems in the two counties, and I looked at a three-year period from 2012 through 2015, and there have only been five systems that have exceeded the lead action level,” Dennis said.
The sites, he said, were Naval Magazine Indian Island, Quilcene and Moa Tel in Jefferson County, and the Elwha Place Homeowners Association and Palo Verde in Clallam County.
All but Quilcene are now in compliance.
Currently, “only the Quilcene system is still pursuing treatment,” Dennis said.
While water distributors work to ensure their water maintains the proper pH balance, homeowners can take steps to reduce lead levels on their own.
One such step is to let water from the tap run for a few minutes to clear out the system, Dennis said.
“The longer that water sits within pipes in the home, the more it has the potential to leach lead and copper,” he said.
That is why, Cox added, “it is a good idea for people to let their tap run — particularly if they are in older housing — for a minute or two before they use it for drinking.”
And, Dennis said, drinking hot water from a tap is never a good idea.
“To reduce your lead exposure from water, be sure not to use hot water for drinking or cooking or baby formula because hot water tends to have more metals in it [and] would have a higher lead content” if lead were already present in the system, he said.
Homeowners also should regularly switch out the screens in their faucets, which may begin to build up with heavy metals, Cox said.
Residents also could replace plumbing lines and fixtures, she said.
Concerned homeowners also can opt to get their water tested by an accredited laboratory, Dennis said.
“They would need to find a lab near them,” he said. “Contact them, and they will be able to help.”