- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Thousands of homes in Northwest began receiving newly treated drinking water yesterday, the first step in efforts to reverse lead contamination in the city’s water system.

At 9 a.m., a small pumping device started feeding orthophosphate into water being pumped at the Fort Reno pumping station, which serves about 20,000 homes.

Orthophosphate is a corrosion inhibitor that, over time, forms a protective coating inside pipes and fixtures to prevent lead from leaching into drinking water, according to officials from the Washington Aqueduct.

The Army Corps of Engineers operates the facility, which supplies water to the District and Arlington County and the city of Falls Church.

Lead-lined pipes and plumbing fixtures containing lead are believed to be the source of contamination in the drinking water supply.

General Manager Tom Jacobus said the Fort Reno area was chosen for the chemical introduction because the water is pumped a second time after coming from the city’s main water source, the Dalecarlia Reservoir, and the residential and service lines in the area are typical of those found across the city.

“We can control and observe the effects in that area,” Mr. Jacobus said. The limited introduction is to make sure the physical process of treating the water is working.

The entire water system will receive orthophosphate treatment beginning later this summer.

Orthophosphate won’t affect the taste or smell of the water, but could cause some water to briefly appear red, the result of rust from iron in the water. It should clear up quickly, Mr. Jacobus said.

The chemical will be a permanent addition to the area’s water supply. It will be at least six months before lead levels start to decrease.

“We hope, and have reason to believe, it will be as effective as it has been in other jurisdictions,” said D.C. Water and Sewer Authority spokesman Johnnie Hemphill.

Because the process takes time, Mr. Hemphill said, customers who are already taking steps to reduce the threat of lead contamination, such as flushing the pipes and using water purification filters, should continue to do so.

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