Lead found in Tacoma pipes: Has Flint spurred new vigilance?

National attention on the drinking water quality in Flint, Mich., has prompted several cities in Washington State to evaluate its pipes, too.

Flint, Mich., isn't the only city that has lead in its pipes. But the water crisis there could spur new vigilance about the issue in other cities that are affected.

Water officials with the city of Tacoma, Wash., said on Wednesday that tests have found high levels of lead at water lines leading to four homes. In all, about 1,700 customers may be affected. The problem stems from sections of lead pipe called goosenecks, which connect the water main to water meters outside homes. Those pipes are found more frequently in older homes that were built in the early 20th century.

Tacoma's lead pipe issue prompted officials in Seattle and the city of Everett, Wash., to look into their own water supplies, although they are not connected to the one in Tacoma. The city and utility has advised residents in Seattle and Everett to run their water for two minutes before using it as a precaution. Lead and other metals can easily sneak into standing water.

But while cities around the country say that they've worked to clean up their water systems, the crisis in Flint, and now Tacoma's advisory, highlights that it's an ongoing problem. Troublingly, problems in the pipes tend to concentrate in poor, urban areas.

"For the most part, the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has declared victory on lead," Robert Bullard, an environmental sociologist and dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, told The Monitor in January. "But there's a residual that still remains, and most of that residual is in urban, inner-city areas. And the children that are most disproportionately impacted still tend to be poor children, children in the inner city, [and] a high percentage of children of color."

Criminal charges were ultimately filed against officials in Michigan for how they handled Flint's water supply. The national attention that Flint's water crisis has garnered may prompt other cities to investigate their own water more closely, as Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett did.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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