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Aqueduct To Begin Citywide Orthophosphate Treatment August 23 To Control Lead in District Water - Community Outreach Program Underway

Release Date: 8/18/2004
Contact Information: David Sternberg - EPA (215) 814-5548, Karen DeWitt - DC WASA (202) 787-2200, Tom Jacobus - Washington Aqueduct (202) 764-2753

David Sternberg - EPA (215) 814-5548 & Karen DeWitt - DC WASA (202) 787-2200 & Tom Jacobus - Washington Aqueduct (202) 764-2753

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the system- wide use of orthophosphate as the next step in preventing lead from leaching into Washington, D.C. drinking water.

The Washington Aqueduct, the water supplier to the Washington area, will begin feeding the orthosphosphate systemwide on August 23. It is expected to take at least six months or longer for the orthophosphate treatment to decrease lead levels in the water.

Orthophosphate is a tasteless, odorless, food-grade additive used by many water systems nationwide to control corrosion in metal pipes. It works by building up a thin film of insoluble material in lead, copper, and iron pipes and fixtures. The film serves as a liner inside the pipe that keeps corrosive elements in water from dissolving the metal.

“The Washington Aqueduct’s decision to implement the orthophosphate treatment systemwide came after a group of technical experts reviewed preliminary results of the partial system application that began in June. Frequent sampling of the treatment area found no significant increase in bacteria, nor the occurrence of red water due to dissolved iron,” said Rick Rogers, drinking water chief for the EPA mid-Atlantic region.

On August 3, EPA authorized the Aqueduct to expand treatment, and established operational parameters and monitoring requirements for the Aqueduct and the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (D.C. WASA).

The systemwide application of orthophosphate includes the entire district water system, which also serves Arlington County and Falls Church, Va.

D.C. WASA and the Washington Aqueduct are preparing for the new treatment, planning additional monitoring, gearing up for possible customer complaints, and flushing out lines to minimize problems.

A community outreach program is now underway to inform residents of the new water treatment and advise them how to handle any adverse effects.

The outreach campaign includes two public meetings, one to be held August 19, at the Congress Heights United Methodist Church (421 Alabama Ave., S.E.) from 6 - 8:30 p.m.
and the other Tuesday, August 24, at the Martin Luther King Library (901 G St., N.W., meeting room A5) from 6 - 8:30 p.m.

A possible temporary effect of orthophosphate treatment is red water. Red water is discolored water that results from a disturbance of rust deposits inside water mains. The addition of orthophosphate may cause this to occur, temporarily resulting in red water for some residents.

Residents should not drink or cook with red water. They also should not wash with red water because red water can stain clothing.

Residents who experience red water should first flush their taps with cold water for 60 seconds. If the water is still discolored after the first flushing, residents should turn off the water for 30 minutes, then try flushing again. If the water remains discolored, they should call the D.C. WASA hotline at 202-612-3400.

All residents should continue to flush water from the tap for 60 seconds before drinking or using it for cooking, to reduce any exposure to lead. They should only use cold water for drinking or cooking. Boiling water will not remove lead.

The Technical Expert Working Group was formed in February 2004 to coordinate research and recommend treatment strategies to reduce elevated lead levels in the district’s drinking water. The group includes representatives of the Washington Aqueduct, EPA, D.C. WASA, the D.C. Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Virginia communities served by the system.