Sandy City has been cited by the state Department of Environmental Quality after tests found high levels of lead, copper and fluoride in its water systems and is advising residents to not drink the water or use it for cooking until they receive confirmation it is safe.
After DEQ officials announced the lead and copper contamination Friday evening, the city said those in the affected area — from 10600 South to 11400 South and 700 East to 2000 East — could use tap water after flushing their water systems. By Saturday morning, city officials changed their mind.
“To ensure absolute safety we are advising people in the affected area ... to not drink water or use it for cooking until we receive confirmation lab results that lead and copper concentrations are at a safe level,“ the city said in a statement.
People in at least eight locations in the affected area have reported illnesses possibly related to the contamination, DEQ Division of Drinking Water Director Marie Owens said.
Mayor Kurt Bradburn and City Public Utilities Director Tom Ward didn’t respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s requests for comment on the new advisory.
Gov. Gary Herbert released a statement about the contamination Saturday night, saying, ”I am deeply concerned about the health of those families who have been affected by this contamination. That is why I have directed our Utah Departments of Environmental Quality, Health and Public Safety to work closely with Sandy City and the Salt Lake County Health Department to ensure that every precaution is taken to protect the safety and health of our citizens.”
Owens said an overfeed of fluoride into the city’s water system after a winter storm and related power outage last week likely led to the high levels of metal. The state has cited Sandy City for violating maximum contaminant level of fluoride, she said. According to the city, affected residents were exposed to the high fluoride levels on Feb. 6 and 7.
The city hasn’t been cited for violating the maximum contaminant levels for lead and copper, Owens said, adding that doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t take the situation seriously.
The highest lead results from the water samples taken before city flushed the water system was 394 micrograms per liter. It also found copper present at 28,800 microgram per liter.
The action level — the amount considered harmful enough to require remediation — for lead is 15 micrograms per liter, and the action level for copper is 1,300 micrograms per liter.
Samples taken from two sites on Friday show levels of copper and lead have dropped “dramatically," Owens said, although one site still contained lead above the 15 micrograms per liter level.
The city has also been cited for a potential violation of the DEQ’s notification standards regarding the copper and lead contamination. Owens said the DEQ issued that citation as soon as it received the results of the city’s testing for lead and copper on Friday, and officials will evaluate it in the coming days to see whether they met the DEQ’s notification requirements.
The DEQ requires a city to notify the public within 24 hours if actionable levels of copper and lead are found.
If the city met those standards, the citation will be removed, Owens said.
She said it can take weeks to get the results back from routine testing for lead and copper, and that Sandy getting results back in a week was not an “abnormally long turnaround.”
She said her department has never “seen anything like this before” and that Sandy has been “responsive.”
Sandy’s water system issues began last week when a winter storm caused a power outage that led to a fluoride pump malfunction at one of the city’s wells near 1700 East and Dimple Dell Lane, according to a statement from the city.
City crews discovered the broken pump Feb. 7 and closed the water valves in the area, approximately 11026 South to 11125 South and 1850 East to 1950 East, and flushed the water system. Officials notified the state and the health department about the issues. Crews also went door-to-door to notify affected residents, the statement read.
By 4 p.m. that Thursday, the city said its fluoride levels were normal.
The city continued monitoring the water systems and discovered more homes may have been affected by the fluoride overfeed. These homes are between 10600 South to 11400 South and 700 East to 2000 East.
On Friday, the city said it received results from the water sample taken last week and learned of elevated levels of copper and lead in the water supply.
Sandy resident Cindie Quintana lives near 11400 South and 1300 East, and said she didn’t know about her household’s potential exposure to fluoride, copper and lead until Friday around 5 p.m. She said she’s disappointed with how the city has handled this situation, particularly with how they’ve chosen to give — or not give — information to residents.
Quintana said she’s worried about her pregnant daughter’s possible exposure to lead, and said she’s not sure if her family suffered from lead or copper toxicity since all of them had the flu last week.
“I was encouraging [my daughter] to drink, drink, drink water, you know, for the symptoms of the flu,” she said, “and now I feel really bad about that because she was drinking tainted water.”
She also took issue with how city officials first told residents on Friday that it was safe to drink water and then backtracked by Saturday morning, and how Mayor Bradburn wasn’t on-site at the city’s designated water distribution center to answer residents’ questions until later Saturday.
“[The mayor] gets an F from me,” she said.
Quintana is the former communications director for the Utah GOP and has worked as a political consultant. She acknowledges that she has means to get information that the average resident doesn’t, and worries that people without those connections aren’t getting needed information.
She said she talked to a neighbor Saturday who thought it was OK to drink their tap water.
Sandy said it gave more than 50,000 bottles of water to affected residents on Saturday. They also provided bottled water and large capacity water tanks for livestock and animals.
If residents living in the affected area purchase their own water, they will have credit added to their water bill, the city said.
City officials recommend affected residents run every tap in their home at the same time for an hour, starting with hot water for 30 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of cold water.
They also said to empty ice trays and not to cook with or drink tap water.
The city said it will continue to post updates on its website as information becomes available.
If residents have any questions, they should call 801-352-4421.
City officials said residents should watch for symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Those experiencing symptoms should see a health care provider or contact Utah Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
Tribune reporter Kelly Cannon contributed to this article.