Traces of lead persist in Redwood City water

Local drinking water still contains trace levels of toxic lead, primarily from older pipes and fixtures in residential homes, according to a report released this week.

Although the level of lead in Redwood City drinking water does not exceed standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the level does not meet the California Public Health Department’s established goal of nearly eliminating the element entirely from the water supply, Redwood City Public Works Superintendent Justin Ezell said.

Lead, which is known to cause nervous-system damage in humans, was the only contaminant found in Redwood City drinking water.

The poisonous element was once used in pipeline alloys, including brass, particularly in older cities. Redwood City eliminated all lead-containing pipes in its public pipelines years ago, but some may remain in homes, Ezell said.

“The plumbing code changed in the 1980s and said you could no longer use lead in brass fittings,” Ezell said. “Homes built prior to that could still have brass fittings that could leach into the water.”

Redwood City took samples from a number of local homes in 2004 and 2006. When it came to lead, none of the samples exceeded the EPA standard of 15 parts per billion, but 45 percent exceeded the state goal of two parts per billion.

Representatives with the California Public Health Department did not return calls for comment, but local officials say the levels are not a cause for concern.

“On the West Coast, we don’t have the lead problems you see on the East Coast” because most municipal pipelines are newer, said Dean Peterson, director of the San Mateo County Department of Environmental Health.

“The water here is less aggressive to pipes, so it doesn’t pull the lead out as much,” he said.

To combat the lead levels in residents’ water supply, Redwood City is advising locals to replace older brass fittings and lead-containing pipes, or just let the tap water flow for 15 to 20 seconds before using.

City Council members asked Ezell this week to begin sending these tips to residents with their monthly water bill.

Redwood City, with much of San Mateo County, is supplied drinking water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

“It’s difficult to compel people to replace things that are in their homes,” because it can be expensive and time-consuming, SFPUC spokesman Tony Winnicker said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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