In wake of Flint crisis, Philadelphia addresses drinking water concerns

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City council wanted to hear about the status of the lead in the city's water. (WPVI)

As the water crisis in Flint, Michigan brings up concerns about drinking water across the country, Philadelphia officials want to stress that the water here is safe. However, there are important steps to make sure your pipes don't become an issue.

City council wanted to hear about the status of the lead in the city's water. On Monday they heard some good news and some bad news.

Debra McCarty, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department, told council the good news: "Let me begin by noting that Philadelphia's drinking water is lead free, and that there are clear differences between Flint and Philadelphia."

McCarty says that water processed and fed to 3,200 miles of Philadelphia mains is lead free.

However, and here is the bad news, once the water leaves the city mains it flows through much smaller privately owned pipes to houses called service lines. In buildings built before 1950 those lines can be lead. Before the 1980s there could lead solder.

McCarthy explains, "The risk of lead contamination arises when water passes through lead service lines, indoor plumbing or faucets."

But then there is some good news. Unlike Flint, Philadelphia adds a corrosion inhibitor that significantly lowers the contamination risk.

"Quite simply, we add zinc orthophosphate at our drinking water plants and that will coat the pipe so you prevent the water from coming into contact with the lead pipe or the lead solder," McCarthy said.

But nothing is perfect. The Water Department and other experts told council if someone has lead pipes they should do this: Run the cold water tap for at least three to five minutes daily after a long period of non-use. The goal is to flush out any possible contamination.

Dr. Jerald Fagliano of Drexel University explains, "Simply running the water for a few minutes is usually sufficient to pull in water from the water main, which is generally free of lead."

It's estimated that there are 50,000 to 60,000 houses in Philadelphia that still have lead service lines.

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