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Water Safety

How Vancouver is keeping water safe and what you can do at home

The safety of drinking water is under scrutiny throughout the nation with the crisis of lead contamination in Flint, Michigan. The City of Vancouver Water Utility encourages people everywhere to become more informed about the quality of their drinking water. Below are some important facts you should know about your water, from its source to your home.

In addition, while the City of Vancouver is responsible for providing high quality drinking water, we are unable to control the variety of materials used in plumbing components within private homes and other buildings. That’s why we also want you to know about simple steps you can take to reduce concerns about potential lead in home plumbing, typically dating back to 1986 and before. We’ve also provided information about local laboratories where you can take your water to have it tested.

Lead is not present in our source water at Vancouver’s Water Utility. Our Utility is one of the largest public water systems in the state of Washington, serving more than 230,000 people. All of Vancouver’s water comes from groundwater. Lead is not naturally present in our local groundwater, which is also typically less corrosive than surface water. Currently, more than two-thirds of Vancouver’s water is further treated to make it even less corrosive. Our water stations are interconnected to maximize the benefits and ensure supplies across the community.

There are no lead water mains in Vancouver’s water distribution system. And, unlike many East Coast cities, there are no known lead service lines that run from the main to the meter and no known lead ‘pigtails’.

Vancouver’s water is closely monitored and put through rigorous testing at its sources and within the distribution system. Our testing goes beyond what is required by state and federal laws. In addition, results are mailed to all customers and posted on our website.

The primary source of lead in drinking water here is from household plumbing installed prior to 1986. Lead was used to solder household plumbing and used at higher concentrations in some brass fixtures before 1986, when regulations were strengthened. Lead from old household plumbing has a potential to leach into the water when water sits in pipes. Elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children.

Other factors: While age of plumbing is a good indicator, it is not the only factor involved when it comes to potential for lead contamination. Other factors are how long water sits in the pipes and how corrosive the water is. The more time water is allowed to sit in pipes and the more corrosive the water, the greater the possibility for dissolved metals. Fortunately, as noted above, groundwater source is typically less corrosive than surface water, and further treatment makes it even less corrosive.

Vancouver’s Water Utility has been periodically sampling water at homes for lead since 1992. EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule requires that all public drinking water systems regularly test a sample of potentially high-risk homes for lead at an inside tap. The risk level is based upon when the homes were built, typically prior to 1986. In compliance with these regulations, Vancouver’s Water Utility currently tests water in 50 residences every three years for lead contamination from home plumbing. The homes are selected based upon when they were built and on the residents’ support in assisting with the testing. Our first round of monitoring began in 1992.

The most recent testing occurred in July 2017, and those results show lead and copper concentrations below EPA action levels at all residences involved in the monitoring. EPA regulations require that utilities take action if more than 10 percent of the tested homes have lead concentrations higher than 15 parts per billion in water from their taps. In 2017 testing here, more than 90 percent of the samples taken at residential taps tested less than 1.6 parts per billion. For reference, EPA’s goal for lead in drinking water is zero (0). 

As a further example, in 2014, individual sampling results for lead ranged from zero (0) parts per billion to 3.8 parts per billion. The average of all lead readings was 0.5 parts per billion, and the median, which is the midpoint of all sample results, was zero (0) parts per billion.

Simple steps to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water from your home’s plumbing

The primary source of exposure to lead in our region is from old lead paint chips and dust, typically paint from prior to 1978. Information on steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from this EPA webpage. Other sources of lead include contaminated soil, drinking water, children’s toys and jewelry, workplace and hobby hazards, imported candy, and traditional home remedies and cosmetics. Visit this Washington Department of Health webpage to learn more about these common sources. The state DOH also has a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. View the DOH website or call 1-800-909-9898.