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Water crew search leads to lead

A lead pipe providing water to six residences was found in Medford Wednesday on Oakdale Avenue near Central Medford High, a discovery that could point to more widespread problems in the city system.

Wednesday's discovery was the fourth lead pipe known as a “pigtail” that has been found over the past few months in the city. Over the past three years, the Medford Water Commission has found five pigtails, relatively short pipes that connect the main water line to the service line going to the meter.

Sara Bristol, spokeswoman for the Medford Water Commission, said her agency would like to test the water prior to removing the 18- to 24-inch pigtail on Oakdale.

The lead pipe connects to the meters for two properties, which contain six units. Before the Water Commission can take a sample to test the water at the tap, the water must sit in the pipes for at least six hours.

“It’s serving two different properties, so it makes it more difficult to test,” Bristol said.

After the testing, the pigtail will be removed, requiring digging up the street. Another water test will be conducted after the pigtail is replaced.

The latest pigtail was found after Water Commission crews found one several months ago in the same neighborhood. That pigtail was removed, but crews surveyed the immediate neighborhood and found a “steer horn,” a galvanized pipe that splits one line into two. Because of the era in which it was used, the galvanized pipe is an indicator of the possible presence of a lead pigtail.

Water Commission crews have surveyed other neighborhoods near Columbus Avenue and Main Street this week looking for galvanized pipes attached to the street side of water meters. Of the 317 water meters inspected Monday in west Medford, crews found 15 sites where the streets will be dug up to see whether a pigtail is attached to the main water line.

The Water Commission has found high lead levels in two tests over the past year, one at a fire hydrant adjacent to the commission’s offices next to City Hall last year. The other was discovered March 15 on South Pacific Highway near Charlotte Ann Road in south Medford.

Despite the two tests, Medford’s previous tests mandated by the EPA have shown no indication of metals or other contaminants exceeding action levels set by the federal government.

The Water Commission estimates about 5,000 houses in older neighborhoods in west Medford and east Medford will have to be inspected. The houses in question were built prior to 1946 when lead pigtails were installed, though many of the pipes have been replaced over the years. Other lead fittings, including pipes with lead used to seal two sections of pipe together, may also be located under streets.

The commission is preparing to hire outside consultants to review the entire water system and look for additional lead pipes.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at dmann@mailtribune.com or 541-776-4476.

Sara Bristol of the Medford Water Commission displays an example of a lead 'pigtail' connection. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch