Tucson Water Quality Monitoring Program by Heidi A. Lytle

When we hear public service announcements about water in our desert communities, the message is generally about water conservation and minimal usage. In the wake of the tragic water situation in Flint, Michigan in recent years, municipal water departments nationwide are increasingly aware of the risks and hazards of lead and other contaminants in the public water systems.

City of Tucson Water Department has initiated a program dubbed, “Get the Lead Out” (GTLO) to ensure maximum water contaminant levels far surpassing those mandated by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Their proactive efforts date back 20 years, long before the Flint debacle came to the forefront.

Tucson Water representatives on Thursday, January 12, offered an informational presentation at Hacienda del Lago for Corona de Tucson residients, apprising them of the ongoing efforts made to ensure safe water quality standards in our community. They state an “above and beyond” approach to this serious issue that affects all of us. Newly elected County Supervisor Steve Christy was on hand to ask hard questions about water quality and the respective responsibilities of Tucson Water and individual homeowners. Numerous residents have questioned the recent flushing of water pipes from hydrants, spilling gallons upon gallons of water onto the streets. Part of this was an effort to flush the system, one of the most effective means of minimizing any lead content in the water.

Meanwhile, water officials have been testing individual homes at the kitchen tap for lead levels. Targeted, highest-risk homes are those built between 1983 and 1987, resulting from construction methods in that time frame. While copper presents other issues, those hazards are much less than that of lead. While copper is a necessary nutrient, any amount of lead ingested is not considered safe.

Two types of water lines and plumbing are prevalent in our area: copper and plastic. While the type of plastic used today is considered safe, generally durable and relatively inexpensive, it lacks the superior durability of copper. Tucson Water is currently implementing a program to replace all plastic lines with copper as necessary. When a plastic line fails, it is now replaced rather than repaired. Over time, this is deemed to be the most cost-effective approach.

The introduction of lead into the water system results from connectors and spigots containing lead, and/or lead-based solder. As Tucson Water replaces water lines, it ensures that the connectors are lead-free and properly installed. According to water officials, investigations have pointed up any sources of lead that fall “outside the water meter.” These are considered the responsibility of the municipal department. Those issues between the water meter and the household are the liability of the homeowner. That notwithstanding, Tucson Water has focused investigations “at the tap,” literally deriving samples from individual household kitchen faucets. If there is lead in the household, that is the area of highest concentration.

Many residents in our hard water area employ water softening systems. As with any other product or technology, there are costs and benefits. With the standard salt-based (sodium or potassium) systems, the water tends to become more corrosive. As a result, leaching of materials from pipes or water heaters into the plumbing can actually increase.  Regarding the newer technology on the market today which utilizes a molecular ion-exchange without a salt medium, scientists representing Tucson Water do not endorse these systems as effective.

Tips for reducing lead exposure from drinking water:

Flush. Stagnant water can accumulate compounds, including lead. If water has not been run for six hours, it is suggested to open the tap completely and run at high flow until the temperature is consistent, usually about 30 seconds.

Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula.  Hot water dissolves lead more quickly than cold water. This also eliminates other minerals that build up in the water heater.

Do not boil water to remove lead. While boiling water kills bacteria, it only concentrates most chemicals and minerals.

Clean your aerators routinely. Annual replacement of aerators is advised.

Test your home for lead. Lead is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. If you are concerned about lead levels in your water, Tucson Water recommends contacting a certified lab. Costs range between $25 and $50. To find a certified lab, go to azdhs.gov/lab/license/certification. Lead testing for children: Contact a pediatrician or local health department for information. For additional information on water reliability: (520) 791-4331, (520) 791-2639 TDD

tucsonaz.gov/water/water-quality             youtube.com/tucson water

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