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Tacoma utility hunting for old pipes that could be elevating lead levels in water

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TACOMA, Wash. -- City leaders continue to search for whatever is tainting some of its water with lead.

Crews tore into two streets Thursday looking for old, lead gooseneck pipes, which could be a source of the contamination.

Water quality samples led crews to a pair of homes where it is though gooseneck lines may still exist. Instead crews came up empty-handed – in both locations they looked.

“Sometimes you just have to dig stuff up to see what’s in the ground,” said Chris Hicks with Tacoma Water.

The gooseneck connects customers to the main water line and could also be the source of lead contamination.

After Tacoma Water found four homes with elevated levels of lead in the water, the utility plans to locate nearly 1700 customers who might still be using the outdated pipes.

“When we find it we just take care of it,” said Hicks.

But digging 1,700 holes in the ground could be expensive; Tacoma Water plans a series of new water quality tests which could pinpoint where crews need to look.

“We don’t anticipate as part of this very detailed study that we’ll to dig up 1,700 holes in the ground,” said Tacoma Water’s Chris McMeen.

But finding a gooseneck can be elusive – after an hour of digging, crews didn’t find any.

“We’ve got a copper pipe going down towards the main,” said Hicks. “We’re going to dig it up and put all new copper in.”

But whatever the cost, neighbor Sarah Hurlburt said the focus is all about the health of her three boys.

“I still worry about if they’re in the bathtub and get bath water in their mouth or something, so we will probably be testing,” she said.

Still, she applauds Tacoma Water for spending the time and effort to keep her source of water safe.

“Lead is definitely concerning especially with little kids,” Hurlburt said. “It’s going to be an expensive problem but I think it’s a worthwhile one.”

Tacoma water crews planned another new round of water quality tests at 10 homes on Thursday; more are planned for later dates. It’s all in an effort to find as many old gooseneck lines as possible.