How to deal with the Water co. on liabilities? Attorney recommendation?
November 8, 2006 11:01 AM   Subscribe

A water main leak was repaired in front of our house. Our facets spewed muddy water. Now possibly contaminated dirt is settled in the water pipes. Health and mechanical/structural risk of dirt and debris settled in water pipes? If, and how to remove? Where for water sample test? How to deal with the Water co. on liabilities? Attorney recommendation?

We have not had reliable, clear, sanitized water since a water main repair. This emergency water main repair took place directly in front of our house at late night. House is located on a dead-end street with no fire hydrant outlet to flush out the main pipe after construction work. Our water pipe is the nearest outlet from the site of repair.

The construction crew made no apparent efforts to prevent/stop dirt and debris from running into our house wide water plumbing. Muddy water spewed out of our sink and tub facets. When we called for water co. service, our sink and tub facets were used as outlets in attempts to flush out the water. "Rare but it happens" was the explanation, and "run the water until clear" was the advice. Some facets now run nearly clear, but some cold water pipes are clogged. Time to time, even a facet that ran clear water will run murky, I assume from dirt that is settled on the pipes. Unclogging specific spots probably is a simple task for a plumber.

My focus is to eliminate any health risk from the contaminants, and to eliminate current and future risk to the household wide plumbing and to any associated appliances like the water heater.

1. Is it possible, and if so, how would I remove contaminants/dirt/contaminants settled inside water pipes throughout the house?
2. What health risks do I face from dirt and debris trapped water in pipes? Ideas how to get a water sample test?
3. What structural/mechanical risks do I face fro having dirt and debris trapped/settled in water pipes?
4. How would I sanitize the entire house plumbing in contact with water? Who do I contact to get this done?
5. Ideas/advice on how to deal with the water co.? What evidence and how to document them, how to approach them, how to obtain specific construction related information and service records/reports from the water co., e.g. did they bother to flush out the pipe after the repair, how did they repair the main (to figure out how so much dirt and debris got into the pipes during construction.)
6. For safety. Attorney recommendations?
posted by MD06 to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Where are you? UK? Australia? US (and what state?) I know you don't want answers to start on false presumptions.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:35 PM on November 8, 2006

If you're still living in Boston, you could contact the Boston Water and Sewer Commission with most of your questions about water quality and testing. I'd contact some of the labs listed on this page to discuss your problems in detail, and see about testing for biological contamination, as well as lead and other dissolved contaminants.

As for cleaning things, you might be able to shut off and drain your water heater, although in older water heaters, it is fairly normal for some sediment to have accumulated at the bottom of the tank. Normally, this is no problem, as the flow in the tank never becomes turbulent enough to stir this material, or cause it to be delivered to the rest of your house. In the same way, small amounts of sediment in water pipes is not an unusual condition, and generally poses no health risk. But if you are getting constant sediment entrained in your water, that is a good indication that you still have a leak in your water lines. The usual method for clearing water lines after construction or maintainance actions is just to run the water for a while (usually 30 minutes to an hour being enough time, if you have several faucets running).

If you're on city water, there is generally plenty of chlorine present in the water to take care of any biological contamination that is present in the distribution system to your faucet. A full set of tests for water quality, taken at intervals of a few weeks, may still alleviate your concerns, and those of other members of your household, so it is money well spent if you choose to do it. But unless you can draw a half gallon of water, and see visible sediment in it, or continue to notice unusual smells or discoloration after running the water in your house for 1/2 hour to an hour, I wouldn't worry about the health considerations unduly.
posted by paulsc at 2:20 PM on November 8, 2006

If it is just dirt then I wouldnt be too concerned. It may look gross, but dirt is mainly (depending on where you live) iron, silica, magnesium, maybe some aluminum.... You would have to eat large quantities for it to affect your health. In general the only water quality standard that would apply would be turbidity, which again, depending on where you live would have different legal standards.

You can probably get the water company to test your water if you raise enough of a stink about it.
posted by Big_B at 3:48 PM on November 8, 2006

Turbid tap water following a water main repair is not unusual. It's almost impossible to prevent since there isn't a shut off for each house. The sediment is usually mostly iron and isn't a significant health risk but does make the water unpalatable and can stain clothes and fixtures.

The situation you describe does seem like a leak, as paulsc mentions. You'll have to show that the normal fixes (running the water, backflushing) don't seem to fix it and that the water falls below local standards. Unfortunately, this means they'll have to dig things up again. If you have a basement sink/tub, try running that one for an hour or so first since the sediment will tend to seek the lowest point.

Depending on where you live, you might get stuck for repair costs if the break is within your pipes. That might be worth getting a lawyer involved if the cost is high enough.
posted by tommasz at 3:58 PM on November 8, 2006

If you are in the US, this is why they add chlorine to the drinking water. We like our pressure high, which means if there is a leak dirty water and such can get sucked back into the system. The additives kill germs. If you are worried, boil your water for a week or so until the bad stuff settles out.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:10 PM on November 8, 2006

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