Things To Know Before Replacing Your Home's Lead Service Pipe
The US Senate recently approved more than $100M to be spent on replacing lead service pipes for homes in Flint. While lead pipe replacement programs can be a great long-term solution to eliminate a source of lead contamination, it doesn’t make all problems go away. Here's the lead water service pipe information you need to know if you are considering replacing your home's lead service pipe:
Service Pipe Replacement Is Probably A Shared Responsibility
The diagram below (from DC Water’s website) shows how a home water service pipe (also called a water service line) connects the city's water main to a private home. In most cases, the city owns the section of pipe up to the property line, but the section on the homeowner’s property belongs to the homeowner. When it comes to replacing a lead service pipe, some cities (including Washington DC) have programs in place to coordinate efforts so the private and public sections can be replaced at the same time.
Lead Concentrations Often Go Up For Months After Replacing A Lead Service Pipe
It seems counter-intuitive, but lead levels typically go up for at least a few months (and sometimes over a year) after a lead service line is replaced. This is because the protective coating/buildup inside the lead pipe is disturbed, and the debris/freshly uncovered pipe surface can contaminate the water with lead. While this spike in lead levels is largest when a service line is partially replaced, we also have users who have seen a spike in lead levels after a complete service line replacement.
Your Home Can Still Have Lead In Its Plumbing
If a home is old enough to have a lead water service pipe, there is a good chance that there is lead somewhere else in the home's plumbing as well. While most cities stopped installing lead service pipes in the 1950s-1960s, residential plumbing standards lagged behind for several decades. For example, in plumbing that predates 1986, solder used to join copper pipes commonly contained 50% lead (it’s actually called 50/50 solder). Since then, there have been reductions in the amount of lead that can be used in residential plumbing connections and fixtures, with the most recent phase out taking place in 2014.
Lead Can Be Introduced 'Downstream' Of A Water Filter
This seems obvious, but it’s something that’s often forgotten when people inquire about whole house filters. This is why we recommend that people who are looking to filter lead from their water install a filter at the point of use (connected to the faucet), not at the point where the water enters the home.
Should You Replace Your Home's Lead Service Pipe?
For the reasons listed above, we highly recommend that people treat replacing their home's lead service pipe as part of an overall lead reduction strategy, not as a silver bullet. If a person decides to replace the lead home water service pipe, we also recommend using point of use custom water filters for all faucets used for drinking, and to monitor lead levels in their home's water for 18 months after the pipe is replaced.
As always, we encourage everyone to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support. If you have any questions about lead home water service pipes, water filtration, or water quality in general, our Technical Support Team is happy to answer your questions, even if you have no desire to buy Hydroviv’s products! Drop us a line (Support@hydroviv.com) or use the live chat functionality.
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How Does Lead Enter Drinking Water?
How Does Lead Enter Municipal Tap Water?
Lead contaminates tap water differently than most pollutants, because lead comes from plumbing, not the water supply. For example, some buildings in older neighborhoods have lead-containing service pipes that connect water mains to the residential plumbing (see image below), and plumbing installed before 1986 often used lead-containing solder to join copper pipes. If corrosion control measures fail (what happened in Flint, MI), lead can leach from the pipes into the tap water. This problem is compounded when water sits stagnant for several hours before use (e.g. overnight or while resident is at work), because lead concentrations rise as corrosive water remains sits in the pipes.
Diagram Showing Underground Components of Residential Plumbing
Is Well Water Susceptible To Lead Contamination?
Most people are surprised to learn that groundwater can often be more corrosive than surface water. The USGS created a comprehensive report highlighting areas of the country with highly corrosive groundwater, which can be found here. Corrosive water can become problematic if it dissolves lead from pipes, causing lead to leach into drinking water (this is a similar situation to what happened in Flint, Michigan). At the municipal level, if a utility provider switches its disinfectant from chlorine to chloramine, they'll need to add a corrosion inhibitor to reduce water corrosivity. If you're a private well user, you might not realize that your water is corrosive until it's too late. There are anthropogenic activities that can make both surface and groundwater more corrosive. One example is the use of road salts to treat icy roads. Runoff containing road salts can enter rivers, other surface water sources, and infiltrate into underground aquifers.
How Does EPA Regulate Lead In Drinking Water?
The Lead and Copper Rule was originally established by EPA in 1991 to protect the public from toxic levels of lead and copper that leach from pipes. Because the route of contamination is unique, The Lead and Copper Rule is fundamentally different from other drinking water regulations in two main ways:
Sampling Methodology: Most water quality tests are performed on samples collected from locations under direct control of the municipality (water mains, service access points), while samples collected as part of The Lead and Copper Rule come from the resident’s tap. By sampling at the tap, water flows through the underground service line and residential plumbing, and can pick up lead along the way if it's present. Furthermore, the Lead and Copper Rule requires that samples are collected after the water has been sitting stagnant in the pipes for at least 6 hours, which gives time for lead to accumulate in the pipes. This sampling method recreates common water usage scenarios (when residents are sleeping and/or at work), and attempts to hold municipalities responsible for providing water that doesn't draw lead from pipes. This is a very good thing, because many people (particularly renters) don’t know a lot about their building’s plumbing or underground pipes.
Violation Criteria: For most pollutants, EPA establishes a risk-based Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), and a violation is triggered if the concentration of the pollutant exceeds the MCL. EPA has not set an MCL for lead, though it has set a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of 0 ppb. Unlike the MCL, the MCLG is a non-enforceable public health target where there is no known or expected risk to human health. EPA uses a different set of criteria when determining violations under the Lead and Copper Rule. Instead of using risk-based MCL thresholds, EPA uses a different term (Action Level) for the threshold, which is 15 parts per billion for lead. It's important to point out that EPA acknowledges that there is no safe level for lead... so the 15 ppb threshold is somewhat arbitrary. Using the Action Level threshold methodology, a municipality is in violation of the Lead and Copper Rule only if 10% or more of the samples have more than 15 ppb lead present. To restate that in a slightly different way: up to 10% of the samples can have lead concentrations higher than 15 ppb and still be in compliance, even if some samples have extremely high lead levels.
Shortcomings Of The Lead And Copper Rule: While the Lead and Copper Rule does a good thing by requiring samples to be collected at the tap, the rule has large "blind spots" when it comes to sampling practices. For example, the rule does not require municipalities to collect large numbers of samples to be tested for lead, or even require that samples be collected each year. This holds true, even for large cities like Atlanta, which last collected samples for lead analysis in 2012, and at that time it only collected and analyzed 51 samples citywide. Other large cities, such as Dallas and Houston did not disclose the number of samples that were collected and subsequently tested for lead. The Lead and Copper Rule is a system that is designed to detect system-wide process upsets, not to detect contamination events on short-term time scales.
Case Study: NYC Drinking Water
New York City is widely recognized in the water industry as the “Gold Standard” for urban tap water.The source water is well-protected, the pipelines used to transport the water from the source are impressive feats of engineering, and the city spends a lot of money on municipal infrastructure. However, in the case of lead, these things don't matter if lead is able to leach from residential plumbing.
This is particularly important in New York City for two main reasons:
- There are a lot of older buildings in New York City, which are most likely to have lead-containing service pipes and residential plumbing
- A large proportion of New York City residents are renters, and have little or no information about the age/composition of their building’s plumbing
(EPA Action Level = 15 ppb)
Because the reported lead concentrations were all over the map, Hydroviv advises our customers in NYC to take advantage of the free lead testing program available to all NYC residents. Under this program, people can request a free kit to test for lead in their drinking water by calling New York City’s 24-hour helpline at 311 or visiting www.nyc.gov/apps/311.
To minimize lead exposure from drinking water, New York City (as well as other municipalities) recommends that you allow your water to run for 2 minutes (or longer if you live in a large building) before collecting water for consumption. Doing so allows the stagnant water that is in residential pipes to flush and be refilled with fresh water coming off the main.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Update 1/25/2016 : We have been contacted by Mr. Savage, he acknowledged his mistake, and pulled down his post. We thank him for this. We are certainly aware of the fraud that follows tragedy.
Accusation of Fraud:
Yesterday (1/24/2016), Hydroviv was falsely accused by a Rachel Maddow Show Contributor (Chris Savage) of being part of a scam, and his accusation has been shared and retweeted multiple times. Mr. Savage's Twitter handle is @Eclectablog, and a screenshot of his post, almost immediately after it was posted is shown below:
I don’t know Chris Savage. I've never talked to him, and he apparently did not do any background research on Hydroviv or myself. I have submitted my direct contact information into the "Contact" section of his website to try and clear up any misunderstanding, as well as directly replied to his tweet. No Response.
Here’s the truth about the partnership between Hydroviv and the “Filters For Flint” Facebook Community:
Origin of Water Filters for Flint partnership:
On January 20, 2016, Hydroviv received a call from a Julia Smith, a woman from Memphis, asking if we would be willing to partner with a “still-to-be-formed” Facebook group that links Flint residents in need with donors who want to help. She told me her story about how she had literally purchased a high-end water filter (not Hydroviv) on Amazon for a complete stranger in Flint, because she saw some heartbreaking photos. Her idea was to create a Facebook Community that brought together people in need with people like her who wanted to help. She found Hydroviv through the #FiltersForFlint hashtag that we have been using on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for some of our other filter donation campaigns. Within 24 hours, she had put together the FB Community, and started linking donors and recipients.
We agreed that it would be appropriate (both logistically and appearance-wise) for Hydroviv to handle all aspects of money, and that the Facebook Community would serve only to link people in need with people who wanted to help. She did not ask for any kind of “kickback,” nor would I have agreed to any kind of arrangement like that (furthermore, at the $65 price, there is nothing to kick back). In case this woman has not done enough to help people by setting up the forum, she has donated several water filters for Flint through her own program.
Logistics of The Partnership:
The logistics behind the partnership between Hydroviv and the “Filters For Flint” Facebook Community are straightforward: Hydroviv created an item in our store called “Donate A Water Filter To A Resident of Flint, Michigan #FiltersForFlint.” After a person donates a system through Hydroviv's secure store/checkout, we use UPS to ship the filtration system directly to a resident of Flint that reached out through the Filters For Flint Community. That's it.
Second Claim: Government's Free Filters Are The End-All Solution
The second claim was that the government is providing filters to Flint residents for free, so there’s no reason to send anything else. This assertion is inconsistent with what we are hearing from people in Flint.
We tip our hat to the people in Flint who are working to distribute bottled water and filters. However, we receive requests every day from individuals and child-focused organizations telling us that they logistically cannot haul enough bottled water, can’t get filters fast enough, or that they don’t trust the products given to them by the same people who ignored the problem for so long. The reality is, the filters that are being distributed by the government will have a much shorter lifetime than expected in Flint, because the lead concentrations from the samples used in the certification tests are lower than the levels being measured in Flint. Once the filtration capacity for lead (not gallons of water) is reached, the filters are worthless.
Regardless of the fear vs. facts, nobody disagrees that people in Flint need to be filtering their water until the measures are in place, and if it lowers their anxiety to receive a DONATION from someone not affiliated with their municipality… so be it. Companies much larger than Hydroviv are doing the exact same thing, and we encourage people to donate through them if it makes you feel more comfortable than working with Hydroviv.
The Purpose For This Response is Two-fold:
1. To lay out the facts in hopes that the death threats will stop.
2. To assure any of our donors who read the accusation (or any subsequent retweets) that they have not been scammed. However, if you feel any uneasiness, Hydroviv will refund your contribution, and I will personally cover your donation, no questions asked.
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
Tech Talk: A Very Close Look at How Water Filters Work
The concept of "saturating a filter" is best demonstrated using Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images of two different types of filtration media. These images were collected as part of a product life cycle failure test, where we intentionally pushed the filtration system beyond its useful life.
Pretty Neat Eh?
As always, feel free to leave water filter technology or water related questions/comments in the comments section, or send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day!
Other Great Articles From Water Smarts Magazine:
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Fluoride in Municipal Tap Water: What You Need To Know
Disinfection Byproducts: What You Need To Know
Anatomy of DC's Tap Water
The Washington Aqueduct (Army Corps of Engineers)and DC Water (District of Columbia Sewer and Water Authority or DC WASA) are the two government entities that produce and distribute Washington D.C.’s tap water. The Washington Aqueduct collects water from the Potomac River, treats it, and sells it to DC Water, and DC Water is responsible for distributing the water to homes and businesses in DC, as well as maintaining water quality standards along the way.
DC WASA does much more than “keeping the pipes flowing” (which with more than 1300 miles of pipe is a logistical feat on its own), they also employ a team of dedicated water quality experts, all working to ensure that water quality meets or exceeds standards set by US EPA. This means running 24/7 compliance (tests that they are legally obligated to do) and voluntary (above and beyond) monitoring programs throughout the city. One interesting aspect of this voluntary program is maintaining mobile laboratories that are staffed with technicians that can be dispatched to investigate emergencies and respond to customer complaints.
DC WASA also puts a great deal of time and effort into community engagement and public awareness. DC WASA participates in over 100 community outreach events each year to help customers understand the valuable water services they provide. One example of these programs is the Clean Rivers Project, where DC WASA promotes best practices practices to minimize the amount of sewer overflow that is discharged into D.C.'s waterways. In addition to managing a water education program for District students, DC WASA hosts annual town hall meetings in every ward of the city.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of municipalities (both large and small), and DC WASA does a very good job with information transparency. I would encourage all residents to check out their website (www.dcwater.com) for more information, which includes things like: water quality reports, overall strategic plan, and the role that residents play in maintaining water quality within their own home.
Lead Contamination in Flint, Michigan Drinking Water
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
***11/20/2019: Note from Eric. It’s been recently brought to my attention that the July 16, 2015 date on this article may have been incorrect, and that the correct publication date is October 14, 2015. We’ve changed the date listed on the article to reflect this.***
I wanted to take a make our readers aware of a largely unreported disaster that is underway in Flint, Michigan. The residents of Flint, MI are being poisoned by lead in their tap water because the municipality messed up... big time. In this post, I'll focus on the science behind lead contamination, the facts (as we know them) of what happened in Flint, and touch upon another incident in recent history where a similar thing happened.
All water has impurities in it. Most impurities are harmless (e.g. dissolved oxygen, minerals), some are harmful (e.g. lead, arsenic, mercury).
Impurities typically enter tap water in 3 ways:
1. Some are found in the source water (e.g. naturally occurring minerals)
2. Some are deliberately added as part of the treatment process (e.g. chlorine)
3. Some are picked up along the way from the treatment facility to the tap.
Lead is almost never found in source water at dangerous levels, and nobody deliberately adds lead to their water supply, because it's toxic. Lead can, however, be be introduced to tap water as it flows from the treatment facility to the tap.
How is Flint’s drinking water picking up lead in transit?
It’s pretty straightforward: Nearly all homes with plumbing installed before the 1986 use lead-containing solder to join copper pipes. Lead can also be found in residential plumbing fixtures manufactured before 1998. Additionally, some older homes use lead service line pipes to connect water mains to homes. Proper water quality testing (e.g. pH, chloride, toxic metals) and corrosion control practices (e.g. monitoring chloride levels, maintaining a slightly alkaline pH, adding corrosion inhibitors) are what keep residents with older plumbing and service connections safe from lead contamination. This is not unique to Flint. Unfortunately, it's not always done correctly, and residents suffer.
In Flint, as well as other places where high lead levels have leached into municipal tap water (e.g. Washington, DC in the early 2000’s), monitoring and corrosion control measures failed, which allowed lead to dissolve from pipes/fittings/fixtures and poison the residents.
What changed in Flint to cause the lead contamination problem?
In 2014, Flint stopped buying its tap water from Detroit (which has proper corrosion control measures in place), and began collecting their water from the Flint River as part of a plan to switch to a different water supply. During the changeover process, the municipality failed to implement effective corrosion control measures, and the corrosive water allowed lead to leach from lead-containing plumbing.
Because proper water quality monitoring procedures were not in place, the Lead problem was not widely discovered until recently.
Flint has announced that it will resume buying water from Detroit, which gets its raw water from Lake Huron and has proper monitoring and corrosion control measures in place. This is a great first step, but it's important that Flint keeps monitoring their water for lead, because the pipes can continue to leach lead while the corrosion control measures build up the protective layer on the inside of the pipes. The length of time this takes will depend on the degree of corrosion, and whether or not Flint's water will have "boosters" of the anti corrosion chemicals.
Until lead levels drop, residents are being urged to use a quality water filtration system that effectively removes lead. Contrary to some of the information out on the internet... boiling water before use does NOT decrease the amount of lead. It is critical that Flint residents use a filter that effectively removes lead, and also changes the cartridges on a regular basis. I would expect that the filtration capacity (in gallons) for lead would be much lower than the manufacturer claims, because the gallon capacity ratings were determined using water with much lower lead concentrations than what is currently being measured in Flint.
Even though there is a plan moving forward, this type of incident almost certainly caused harm to some residents Flint, and the areas most affected by it were probably homes with older plumbing. Even though lead contamination is odorless and tasteless, it has devastating effects on human health. Since Flint began using the Flint River as a water source, numerous children have tested positive for high levels of lead in blood, and a number of schools have recently shut down water fountains due to high lead levels. When a similar lead contamination issue occurred in Washington DC between 2001-2004, stillbirths shot up during the affected years (Edwards, 2013). As was the case in Washington, DC, the full extent of harm likely will not be realized for several years.
M. Edwards. Fetal death and reduced birth rates associated with exposure to lead-contaminated drinking water. Environmental Science & Technology. Published online December 9, 2013. doi: 10.1021/es4034952.
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Disinfection Byproducts: What You Need To Know