Water Quality Information | Written By Actual Experts — new york city
Does Your Home Have Lead Plumbing? Here's How To Tell
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|
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.
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:
- Use a high quality filter at each faucet used for drinking. Any filter should meet or exceed NSF Standard 53 for lead filtration performance.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
Lead Contamination In New York City School Water: Interactive Map
Updated 5/17/2018 To Include Video
Cover image is screenshot of map taken from http://www.wnyc.org/story/wnyc-map-lead-contamination-water-fountains-nyc-public-schools/ taken at 23:59 on April 2.
Over the last several weeks and months, parents that send their children to New York City Public Schools have recieved letters notifying them that water from certain points of use in the schools (e.g. drinking fountains, hose bibs, faucets) have tested positive for high levels of lead. We recently wrote a more detailed article that focuses specifically on why so many schools have such high levels of lead in their water.
Even though there is no safe level of lead for children, New York City is quick to point out that their tap water meets all federal standards, despite over 100 points of use in schools testing over 15 parts per billion, more than 30 having measurements over 400 parts per billion, and some measurements over 6500 parts per billion. This interactive map (updated regularly) shows the levels as the data are coming in.
Screenshot from http://www.wnyc.org/story/wnyc-map-lead-contamination-water-fountains-nyc-public-schools/ | April 3, 2017
While WNYC is doing a fantastic job assembling data, we encourage people to lean on Hydroviv's water quality experts for questions about water quality. Our water quality experts will answer your questions, even if you have no intention of buying a Hydroviv Water Filter.
Other Articles We Think You'll EnjoyWhy Do So Many Schools Have High Concentrations Of Lead In Their Water?
Does New York City Tap Water Have A Lead Contamination Problem?
Things To Consider Before Buying A Reverse Osmosis System
What Is The Best Water Filter For Apartments Or Condos?
Just because you live in a multi-unit building doesn’t mean that you should be forced to use ineffective pitcher or fridge filters that don’t filter things like lead or chromium 6. These are the big things to consider when shopping for a water filter for your apartment or rental home.
Most renters don’t want to change out their kitchen’s fixtures, so you’ll want to make sure that your water filter connects to the existing faucet and cold water valve with universal faucet connections. Nearly all faucets in the US use a 3/8” compression fitting to connect to the cold-water shutoff valve, so make sure that the inlet and outlets use that size connection.
Many apartments in cities like New York City or Washington, DC have smaller under sink spaces than what are found in larger homes. When you are shopping for water filters, you’ll need to take size into account, especially if your unit has a garbage disposal that takes up a bunch of space under your sink. Most reverse osmosis systems are bulky and have large storage tanks, and will not fit under the sink of many apartments.
Many water filtration systems for apartments require that you drill a hole in your drain line, or that you drill a hole in your counter top. Obviously, if you do either of those things, you won’t get your deposit back, so most people don’t opt for reverse osmosis systems that require a drilled connection to your drain.
When you rent your home, you want to make sure that your water filter can be taken with you when it’s time to move. Make sure that your apartment water filter uninstalls very easily, so you don’t leave it behind in the frantic move out!
Hydroviv’s custom water filters are engineered with renters in mind. It’s a no-compromise water filter (filters things like lead & chromium 6), but it’s designed for people who live in apartments. Its housing fits in small spaces and connects to existing faucets with screw on, screw off connections in 15 minutes, no plumbing experience needed, and we provide an easy water filter installation guide to help you along the way. When it’s time to move, Hydroviv apartment water filters can be pulled in about 5 minutes, and the unit’s plumbing can be put back to how it was when you got there.
Other Great Articles We Think You'll Enjoy
4 Things To Know Before Testing Your Home’s Water For Lead
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?
Lead In Drinking Water: Chemistry, Policy, New York City Case Study
How Does Lead Enter Municipal Tap Water?
Diagram Showing Underground Components of Residential Plumbing
How Does EPA Regulate Lead In Drinking Water?
Differences in 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.
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.
Differences in 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 ppb 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.
Simply put, 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 WaterNew 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.