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Four more lead pigtails found

The Medford Water Commission unearthed another four lead pigtail pipes Wednesday, bringing to 13 the number found over the past year.

Lead pigtails, which were once used to connect service lines from the water meter to the main line in the street, were found on Laurel, King and 11th streets Wednesday by a Water Commission crew.

So far, Water Commission crews have looked at 2,725 meters in west Medford out of 5,000 total. They are looking for galvanized pipes on the street side of the meters. Galvanized pipe is an indicator that lead pigtails, which are about 2 feet in length, might might be present.

Even though crews will wrap up their initial inspections on the west side, they will follow up with a more thorough investigation at specific locations to determine whether pigtails are located underground

"We will continue to find some more on the west side," Sara Bristol, spokeswoman for the Water Commission said.

On Wednesday, crews found one pigtail on King Street connected to a 1909 main water line. Two pigtails were found on Laurel Street, including one that used a steerhorn pipe connector that basically diverts water from a single line to two water meters. The Laurel pigtail was connected to a 1912 water main. The 11th Street pigtail was connected to a 1909 main line.

Service crews recently found one pigtail on Quince Street that was connected to a copper pipe, which is unusual because most appear to have been connected to galvanized lines.

By next week, crews will be going through east Medford neighborhoods where older lines are suspected.

Last month, before one lead pigtail was removed on Oakdale Street, water tests determined high levels of lead were found at the tap, though some of the lead could have come from older pipes inside the house.

The Water Commission is awaiting other results from water testing, but in four separate tests at various spots in Medford over the past year, the commission has discovered high lead levels that surpass the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion.

Rosie Pindilli, water quality manager, said the Water Commission tries to get permission from the property owner before conducting tests at the tap. However, the property owners haven’t always given permission, though tenants living in the houses on these properties might want their water tested.

“If the tenant says test the water, then test the water,” commission member John Dailey said in a meeting of the commission Wednesday.

The Water Commission has received 110 calls since the pigtail issue surfaced in June.

Pindilli said residents also have asked her a lot of questions when she goes out to neighborhoods.

“Will the Water Commission pay for blood tests where lead was found?” is a question Pindilli receives.

The commission board instructed Pindilli to get any information she can from Jackson County Health about lead issues to pass out to water customers.

Since the Water Commission board became aware of the presence of the lead pigtails, it has offered to conduct water tests at the customer’s tap to determine whether lead levels are higher than action levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Water Commission officials say previous tests on pigtails showed they could raise lead content above the levels set by the EPA.

Even though the number of lead pigtails represents a small fraction of the meters investigated, the commission board has been pushing to get a better understanding of the problem.

“We’ve gone from what we think was there to knowing a lot more,” Councilor Bob Strosser said.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, exposure to drinking water that has greater than 15 parts per billion of lead over long periods of time can delay children’s physical or mental development, decrease IQ in children, cause kidney problems, increase blood pressure and increase the risk of cancer.

Even though local water agencies such as the Water Commission might be delivering water that started out lead-free, the Health Authority cautions that water out of a tap can still contain high levels of lead from contact with household pipes or other pipes in the system. Medford's water routinely passes water quality inspections with flying colors.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.