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Does Your Home Have Lead Plumbing? Here's How To Tell

Water Nerds @ Monday, November 21, 2016 at 5:35 pm -0500

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

We get a lot of questions about lead service lines and how to tell if you have lead pipes, and we thought that it would be worth putting together an article that talks about some of the lesser known places where lead can exist in residential plumbing. Most people are surprised to learn that up until 2014, EPA allowed lead exist in fixtures & valves used for drinking water lines!

The Evolution of “Lead Free” Plumbing

When the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was amended in 1986, it mandated that residential plumbing could not use any pipe, pipe fitting, solder, flux, or fixture that was not “lead free.” While the term “lead free” seems pretty straightforward, the law allowed for the definition of "lead free" to evolve. The chart below shows allowable lead levels in solder, pipes, fittings, and fixtures through the 25+ years that lead was phased out of plumbing. It's worth pointing out that, it wasn’t until very recently (2014) that all pipes/fittings/fixtures used for drinkable water were required to contain negligible amounts of lead.

Maximum Levels of Lead Allowed in Residential Plumbing 

 Years  Solder/Flux Pipes, Fittings, Valves
Before 1986 50% 100%
1986-2014 0.2% 8%
After 2014 0.2% 0.25%

Note: Things like toilets, urinals, bidets, tub fillers, shower valves are excluded from these regulations 

How to Determine If Plumbing in Your Home Is Lead Free

Solder: Unfortunately, there is no easy way to visually tell how much lead is in soldered joints after the connection is made. If you are getting plumbing work done, it's ok to ask your plumber to see the package for the solder that they are using. It should prominently say “lead free” on it.

Pipes/fittings: Because there are certain applications (toilets, showers, tub fillers) where plumbing components are allowed to contain lead, you can still buy lead-containing plumbing components at the hardware store. We have seen many applications in customers' homes where lead-containing components were mistakenly used in an application that required lead free components. Anything that complies with the 2014 lead free standard is clearly marked with some sort of "LF" or checkmark label to indicate that it meets the most recent lead free standard:
How To Identify Lead Free Plumbing 1Lead Free Brass Ball Valve
How To Identify Lead Free Brass Connections
How To Identify Lead Free Brass Plumbing
Lead Free Plumbing ValveLead Free Marking On Brass Ball Valve

What To Do If Your Home Has Lead Plumbing

As the US has become increasingly aware of lead contamination in drinking water because of the ongoing crisis in Flint, recent violations in large cities like Pittsburgh, and longstanding lead problems in old cities like Chicago and New York City, more and more people are asking what they can do to minimize their family's exposure to lead.

The best way, bar none is to:

If you are unable to use a rated filter, or if the filter you use does not protect against lead (like most pitchers and fridge filters), you can take the following steps to minimize exposure:

  • Allow your faucet to run for at least 2 minutes before collecting water for consumption (drinking/cooking/washing food). Doing so allows the water sitting in the pipes to flush out and be replaced by fresh water flowing through the large mains.
  • Only use the faucet at a slow flow rate when collecting water for consumption. Doing so minimizes the amount of lead particulates that can be swept into the stream and carried to the faucet.

As always, we encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv's "Help No Matter What" technical support policy, where we answer questions related to drinking water and water filtration, even if you have no desire to purchase our products. Drop us a line about lead pipes in homes at support@hydroviv.com, or use our live chat function.

Related Articles:
Does New York City Tap Water Expose More People To Lead Than Flint?
Pittsburgh's Lead Level Exceeds EPA Limits In 2016
Why You Are Being Mislead By Your TDS Meter


What Do Municipalities Do To Prevent Lead From Leaching Into Drinking Water?

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 3:36 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Flint, Pittsburgh, Providence, and Portland are just some of the major U.S. cities dealing with high levels of lead in drinking water. Since Pittsburgh just began adding Orthophosphate to its distribution system, we decided to put together an article explaining what exactly this treatment technique is, and other popular municipal treatment techniques used for lead mitigation.

Why Is Lead Such A Big Problem And What Are We Doing To Fix It?

The 2014 drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan made municipalities around the country turn the mirror on their own problems with lead contamination. Lead remains a major issue for cities and towns throughout the entire country. It may feel like Americans have been talking about lead exposure for years, so why is it still such a big problem? The answer is pretty simple: Homes in the U.S. built before 1986 most likely contain lead pipes, plumbing, and solder. To make matters worse, water distribution lines also tend to adhere to this cutoff date. Lead is still a big part of infrastructure in the United States.

Since municipalities are tasked with mitigating lead exposure, we wanted to go over some popular treatment techniques that are being used throughout the United States, and their effectiveness at removing lead from drinking water.

Orthophosphate: Corrosion Inhibitor

Orthophosphate is a common system-wide corrosion inhibitor. It’s created by combining phosphoric acid with zinc phosphate and sodium phosphate. Together these chemicals create a mineral-like crust on the inside of lead service lines. If municipalities are willing to follow a strict dosing and monitoring schedule, orthophosphate can be extremely effective at reducing lead levels in drinking water.

Other larger cities around the country have also adopted Orthophosphate as a solution for lead-contaminated drinking water. In June of 2004, Washington, D.C. introduced orthophosphate to its distribution system, following major District-wide lead contamination.

According to EPA, the health effects of phosphates are not well known and FDA has stated that they’re “generally recognized as safe.” The Lead and Copper Rule requires the use of polyphosphate or orthophosphate whenever a municipality is in exceedance of lead standards set by EPA. Both have been cited as effective, but some municipalities disagree. According to city officials in Madison, Wisconsin, utility providers tried both of these additives and neither of them effectively reduced lead levels in drinking water. Because they were unable to find a corrosion inhibitor that worked, Madison officials decided to mandate the removal of all lead service lines.

It’s important to remember that orthophosphate isn’t a permanent fix, nor does it magically remove lead pipes. Orthophosphate has been cited by EPA as an “interim Optimal Corrosion Control Treatment (OCCT) modification.” It will also increase your water bill. In Washington, D.C., orthophosphate costs DC Water customers approximately $700,000 annually.

Problems With Partial Lead Service Line Replacements

Partial service line replacements are another mitigation tool used to reduce lead exposure. To put it candidly: it's extremely invasive. People are often surprised to learn that lead levels actually increase in the months following a partial service line replacement. Water that comes in contact with lead-laden debris or freshly uncovered piping can easily become contaminated. This type of disruption negates any sort of expensive treatment being used by a utility provider, like orthophosphate. If a municipality is in exceedance with the 15 part per billion Action Level, they are mandated (under the Lead and Copper Rule) to replace a certain percentage of lead service lines every year. If you’re curious municipal requirements under the Lead and Copper Rule, click here!

Who Pays For Lead Line Replacements?

Ratepayers are typically responsible for paying for public water line replacements. However, homeowners are responsible for covering the cost of replacing lead service lines that distribute water directly into their homes. According to EPA, a homeowner that elects to do so can expect to pay anywhere from $2,500 to $8,000 per line. This is not feasible for most households in the United States. Additionally, people are still at risk of lead exposure because lead pipes may still exist at various locations throughout a distribution system. Some municipalities offer subsidies or rebates on private lead service line replacements, but not all. In Madison, Wisconsin for example, homeowners who are eligible can apply for a rebate which covers up to $1,500 of the line replacement.

Can pH Reduce Lead In Drinking Water?

Many municipalities believe that adjusting the pH of drinking water is the best way to reduce lead exposure, and here’s why: Acidic water increase corrosivity, which causes lead pipes to leach into drinking water. The idea is that by making water more alkaline (opposite direction on the pH scale), the corrosivity will decrease. This may sound good in theory, but a municipality must still correct for chloride when doing so. According to the World Health Organization, chloride “increases the electrical conductivity of water and thus increases its corrosivity” and “increases the rate of pitting corrosion of metal pipes.” Similar to the other treatments mentioned in this article, changing the pH of drinking water does not get rid of lead service lines. Additionally, maintaining a balanced pH throughout an entire distribution system is not an easy task.

How Do You Know If Lead Treatment Works?

Lead is different from other contaminants because problems arise at the tap, rather than the source water. The only way to truly know if a corrosion control method is working is to test every single tap (which is completely unfeasible). Under the Lead and Copper Rule, most municipalities are only required to test 50-100 homes every 3 years or every monitoring period. This is not nearly enough data for a larger municipality like New York City. There’s just no way to know if a system-wide treatment technique is working to the best of its ability, so the burden and responsibility is on the consumer.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
Lead: What You Need To Know
Orthophosphate and Lead Contamination
Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead?

Legionnaires' Disease In Flint Tap Water: What You Need To Know

Eric Roy @ Monday, February 5, 2018 at 7:20 pm -0500

Eric Roy, Ph.D. 

A new report was released which confirmed that an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Flint, Michigan that killed 12 people and sickened at least 87 during 2014 and 2015 was likely caused by low chlorine levels in the municipal water system. It's another example of Flint's broader water crisis that resulted from widespread incompetence and fraud. We will add to this article as more questions come in.

What Is Legionnaires' Disease?

Legionnaires is a pneumonia, caused the bacterium Legionella pneumophila. Legionella pneumophila grows in water, and can enter the lungs through tiny water droplets. If a person doesn't have a robust immune system, they can become very sick, or even die.

Where Is Legionella Found?

According to Marc Edwards (A professor at Virginia Tech), Legionella is found in about 25 percent of all water samples collected nationally. It's a common bacterium, but it's usually kept under control in municipal water.

How Is Legionella Typically Controlled In Municipal Tap Water

In properly treated municipal water, Legionella is kept under control by chlorine-based disinfectants, so the bacterium cannot reach dangerous levels. In Flint, it appears that not enough chlorine was added to the water to leave enough residual chlorine to keep the bacterium under control, which is what caused the Legionnaires' outbreak in Flint.

Is Flint Still At Risk Of Legionnaires Disease?

According to Edwards, chlorine in Flint's water is now at the correct level, so the likelihood of Legionnaires' disease popping back up is minimal. It is our opinion at Hydroviv that concerned Flint residents should take every piece of advice issued by Dr. Edwards. If he says that there is enough chlorine, there is enough chlorine.

Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy:
3 Years Of Hell: Reflections of a Flint Water Crisis Victim
Largely Unreported Water Quality Crisis Underway In Flint Michigan
Tap Water Chlorination: What You Need To Know

3 Years Of Hell: Reflections From A Victim Of The Flint Water Crisis

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 10:31 pm -0400

LuLu Brezzell  |  Guest Contributor

Editor's Note: This article is part of an initiative to include stories on our blog that connect water quality issues to the everyday lives of real people. To raise awareness of the 3 year anniversary of the beginning of the Flint Water Crisis, Flint resident LuLu Brezzell describes the roller coaster ride that her family and fellow Flint residents went through once they realized that their water was not safe to drink. Ms. Brezzell was gracious enough to share her story with our audience, and was not paid to do so.

Fear

Fear, the feeling that takes over when you are told that your water source that flows into our home was filled with lead and bacteria. The same water we have been using to drink, cook with, and bathe. Fear, the feeling of knowing that your children may have been exposed to an invisible, tasteless, odorless poison that can cause irreversible damage. As a parent, there is no greater fear. 

This is the same fear that I'm sure every single member of my community felt.

What Happened?

Three years ago, as part of a cost-cutting measure, a state-appointed emergency manager made the decision to switch Flint's drinking water from Detroit's municipal water to the Flint River. Flint's water plant hadn’t treated raw water in decades, never mind the fact that it was not equipped to manage industry standard corrosion control measures that would prevent corrosive river water from eating away at Flint's aging infrastructure.

On the day of the water supply switch, the emergency manager, mayor and other council members all gathered at the Flint Water Plant, and ceremoniously toasted each other with glasses of the new tap water.

Who could have expected that this toast would mark the day that our city lost its access to clean safe water?

Visible Symptoms Hinting At A Much Larger Citywide Problem?

Soon after the switch, my youngest child, who wasn’t even two years old, started to have serious issues with her skin, including persistent rashes that OTC treatments couldn't stop. She was eventually prescribed a steroid ointment that slathered onto her, and wrapped her up like a mummy with plastic wrap. It was horrible, in part because we had no idea what was causing the problem.

Here's the short answer: It was the water she was bathing in.

Shortly thereafter, we had the US CDC, EPA, MDEQ and other agencies all in our home, taking water samples and asking questions in an attempt to diagnose what was causing these issues. We weren't alone in this, it was happening all over our City. It was like watching a horror movie, where you have no idea what was going to happen next.

Our city was in the midst of a widespread water contamination emergency.

An Inspiring Call For Help

My other daughter (8 years old at the time) became very concerned with what she saw happening in Flint, and felt like she needed to do something. Here I am feeling helpless and my child is begging me to let her do something to help.

So help we did! We participated in protests and rallies to raise awareness of the water crisis. We would go out and find people passing out water and jump in a volunteer with them. We made videos and took pictures that we could share on social media.

One day we heard about a bus traveling from Flint to Washington, DC for the congressional hearing for Governor Rick Snyder. My daughter thought that if we were going to go to Washington, DC... it would probably be worth it to write a letter to (then) President Obama. About a week before the trip, she sent the letter, and I was careful to remind her that President Obama was very busy, and that he probably wouldn't be able to read it. The trip to DC came and went as planned, and a good learning experience.

But soon after we returned to Flint, we got a call...

From the White House.

President Obama was touched by her letter and wanted to come to Flint to meet her and to see first hand what was being done for the water crisis.

Flint In The National Spotlight

When that letter was released so much changed, because The Flint Water Crisis was now in the spotlight. Up until that point, I had been begging outside groups to come in and do testing (we didn't trust the testing that the city was conducting). Once the story hit the national news, things changed. We were getting emails and messages offering us water filtration systems, testing, and other products. It was so hard to keep up with everything. I was overwhelmed but grateful that finally it felt like someone was listening and wanting to help.

Navigating Conflicting Voices In A Storm Of Information

Unfortunately, some people saw the media spotlight and chaos as an opportunity to make a name for themselves, or even worse... profit from the situation.

Like anyone, I wanted answers and was willing to listen to everyone who claimed to have a solution that could fix our problem. It's easy to look back and say that I should have focused on certain opinions and ignored other voices, but it's important to remember that at the time... it was complete chaos, and even though we were grasping at straws, we were hopeful that the next straw grasped could be the solution we were looking for. 

Looking back, I feel fortunate that while others were making names for themselves, an outsider with no ties to Flint was willing to remain in the shadows while helping me weed through and understand all of the information. 

What Lies Ahead For Flint's Tap Water?

It's been 3 years since Flint made the fateful water supply switch that turned an entire city upside down.

Unfortunately, it's much easier to make a mess than it is to clean it up. 

Our city's pipes are irreparably damaged, and we're learning that it's not as easy as digging them up and replacing them. Precautions must be taken in the meantime to ensure that no addition exposure occurs as the pipes are swapped out. It's also important to remind ourselves that replacing the service lines will not do anything to fix any lead-containing solder, valves, or plumbing fixtures inside our homes. The official recommendation is that we continue to filter our water for lead, but I know that some residents continue to rely on bottled water.

Another problem that has gone largely unpublicized is that the city is having a hard time maintaining disinfectant levels in the water, which means that some areas have noticeably high chlorine levels while other parts of the pipe network have virtually no residual chlorine to keep the water sterile.

Right now, several city and state officials are under investigation for the alleged roles they played in the Flint water crisis.

Tap water is something that most of us take for granted, but producing clean water at the municipal level is more complicated than most realize. Because of what we have gone through, I don’t think I will ever trust tap water ever again. 

What's Changed In Our Home?

In the year since the letter not much has changed regarding how we use water. We still don’t use the tap water at our house for consumption. Showers are limited to 2 minutes because of how sensitive my families skin is to the water, even when filtered. Bottled water is still a very big part of our everyday lives. As much as an inconvenience as it is to constantly open up bottles of water it has almost become second nature. 

On the activism and awareness front, my daughter is still doing her part to raise awareness of water quality issues, and to be a voice in support of quality science.

Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy

Pittsburgh's 2016 Citywide Lead Levels Exceed EPA Standards
How To Tell If Your Home's Plumbing Has Lead In It

4 Things To Know Before Testing Your Home’s Water For Lead

Eric Roy @ Thursday, December 29, 2016 at 12:58 am -0500

Eric Roy, Ph.D.  |  Scientific Founder

Since the lead crisis in Flint put lead contamination in the national spotlight, our Tech Support Team is frequently asked questions about testing a home’s water for lead.   Many who reach out to us do so after having been duped by "testing companies" looking to make a quick buck.  This article discusses how to test your home's water for lead accurately & cost-effectively.  

Check For Free City Programs

Some large cities (like Washington DC, NYC, Chicago) have programs in place where residents can submit samples to the city for free lead testing.  We strongly encourage people to take advantage of this free service if it's available to them.  

Ignore Marketing Gimmicks And Find An Accredited Laboratory For Lead Testing

Most of the consumer “test kits” you find at hardware stores or large online retailers are almost always for low cost “screening” tests that are notorious for false alarms and inconclusive results, which allows the lab to upsell you on a more sensitive and accurate test.  Don't be fooled by marketing claims that a kit is "EPA Recognized" or "Tests to EPA Standards"... they don't mean anything.  With lead, you should simply find an accredited water quality lab in your area, and request their test kit.   We recommend finding a lab that uses EPA Method 200.8, which is an Inductively Coupled Plasma, Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) based method that gives accurate results at low concentrations.  

Sample Properly From The Faucet 

Because lead contamination occurs when water sits in lead-containing plumbing pipes, solder, and connections, it’s important that you sample from the faucet and collect at a time when your home’s water has not been used for at least 6 hours (like first thing in the morning)

We recommend collecting 3 samples:  one as soon as you turn on the faucet (also known as a "first draw"), and separate samples after the water has been running for 30 seconds, and 2 minutes.   The reason for collecting multiple samples in this interval is to sample water that sat overnight in different parts of the home’s plumbing and service line. 

Get Help Interpreting Lead Test Results

If all samples come back at zero, you’re probably in the clear for lead.  This is a good thing!

If any of the samples come back above zero, the interpretation gets quite a bit more complicated because EPA’s statements on lead toxicity and regulations are not in alignment.  On one hand, EPA states that there is no safe level of lead, which would imply that lead concentrations should be zero.  However, EPA has established a 15 ppb “Action Level” for lead… which most people (and some media outlets) interpret to mean “if my water is under 15 ppb, it’s safe.”  Unfortunately, that’s simply not true, because the 15 ppb Action Level threshold was established to tell whether or not city-wide corrosion control measures are having problems, not if a single sample contains too much lead.  Furthermore, the EPA allows for up to 10% of samples collected under the Lead and Copper Rule to test above the 15 part per billion Action Level (with no upper limit), and the city remains in compliance.

The reality is, if your water has lead in it after letting water sit in pipes for 6 hours or more, we highly recommend taking steps to reduce exposure, whether it's using a point of use water filter that is rated to remove lead, or allowing your water to run for 2 minutes before using it for drinking, cooking, or washing food.  

We encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to Technical Support when it comes to water.  Even though we do not offer lead testing, our water quality experts are happy to give advice through all stages of the lead testing process, free of charge, to make sure that you get answers in the most efficient way possible.  We do not take money from test labs for referrals.

Related Articles:

Does New York City Tap Water Expose More People To Lead Than Flint?
Pittsburgh's Lead Level Exceeds EPA Limits In 2016

Does Your Home's Pre-2014 Plumbing Contain Lead?