Board directs Water Commission to inform neighborhoods of lead pipes

Medford, Ore. —  We’re learning new information tonight about the discovery of lead pipes within Medford’s water system. According to the Medford Water Commission the most recent lead pigtail was found last month. Since then, they’ve gone back and looked at purchase records which indicate that at least 3 lead pigtails have been replaced in the last 3 years. And while the manager of the Medford Water Commission tells NBC5 News they’ve been transparent about their findings, members of the board think more could have been done.

“I’m not sure the communication was as clear as it could have been,” water commissioner Bob Strosser tells NBC5 News.

The Medford Water Commission board met Wednesday to develop a game plan for locating and removing lead pigtail pipes that may be in neighborhoods older than the 1950’s. This, after an NBC5 News investigation revealed that a lead pigtail installed decades ago was recently uncovered.

“We didn’t know where any pigtails were, because we never recorded them,” Water Commission Manager Larry Rains says, “only if a service crew ran across one and even then we didn’t record it, they were just replaced and not necessarily recorded.”

Rains says because they always passed EPA standards tests, no further investigation was done, including testing the affected homes for elevated levels of lead. However, the homes that they test every 3 years for the EPA, are not homes that could be affected by lead pigtails.

“You didn’t have to do anything else,” Rains says regarding further testing, “unless you come across it [a lead pigtail] you need to replace them. So we didn’t go out and dig up everything in the world and try eliminate them because we met the rule.”

But now, the board is taking steps to pinpoint older neighborhoods that may still have the pipes in use.

“There’s some indications on some of our maps of some places we might check, and that’s where they’re pursuing first- the low hanging fruit so to speak- to know if we can find these problems and what is the level of the problem,” Strosser adds.

The board asked that steps would be taken including: notifying homeowners of the potential of lead pigtail pipes in their area so that they can be more conscious of flushing their lines, and potentially testing their water for the presence of lead if they come across one.

Strosser says, “it’s a multi-pronged approach, we have to do the education as well as the investigative look as to what the magnitude of this issue is or is not.”

“We will work on that protocol and that will be part of the process,” Rains adds.

There are about 4,000 homes that are older than 1950, but that doesn’t mean every home has a lead pigtail. Crews were recently doing work on Dakota Street and none of the 14 service lines there had the lead pipes. Meanwhile, the Medford Water Commission board voted unanimously Wednesday to hire an independent third party to assist in a performance review of Medford Water Commission Manager Larry Rains.


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