Does Your Home Have Lead Plumbing? Here's How To Tell
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|
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 email@example.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
Why Are So Many Schools Testing Positive For Lead In Drinking Water?
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
***Modified on August 23, 2018 to include more cities and add a video ***
With more schools in major cities testing positive for lead contamination (e.g. New York City, Cleveland, Chicago, Portland, Newark, San Francisco), we get lots of questions about what’s happening. The goal of this article is to shed some light on why lead in school drinking water is such an important thing.
Children Are Most Sensitive To Lead Poisoning
There is no level of lead that is known to be safe for children. Period.
Since lead contamination in tap water entered the spotlight in 2015, people have incorrectly presented EPA's regulatory limits as safe/not safe thresholds. While a simple safe/unsafe threshold would certainly make things more simple, the 15 ppb threshold was never intended to be a "safe level." It’s a limit that EPA established to evaluate city-wide corrosion control practices and it allows a city to have up to 10% of samples test ABOVE the 15 ppb threshold, and still be in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule. For reference, the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for regulatory changes that ensure that water never tests above 1 ppb in schools.
Most Schools Are Old & Old Plumbing Often Contains Lead
According to data assembled by the U.S. Department of Education, the average age of a Public School building in the United States is 44 years old, a time when lead-based plumbing was the norm. Even in newer schools, lead contamination can creep into water because lead wasn’t completely phased out of plumbing connections, fittings, and valves until 2014.
Weekends & Summers Allow Water To Sit Stagnant For Extended Periods Of Time In Schools
As many now realize, lead accumulates in water when it leaches from lead-containing pipes, valves, and plumbing connections. The longer water sits stagnant in pipes, the more lead it can accumulate. Unlike in homes, where water is used on a daily basis and never sits stagnant for more than a few hours each night, water in schools goes completely unused for long periods of time each weekend, vacation, and summer. These frequent long periods where water is not used are detrimental for two reasons:
1. Lead has more time to accumulate as water sits stagnant in lead-containing pipes
2. The lack of flushing prevents corrosion measures from rebuilding the protective layer that prevents lead from leaching out in the first place.
Most Schools Do Not Test Water Properly For Lead Contamination
It sounds crazy, but most schools don’t test for lead contamination in water. When asked by a reporter about testing the school’s water for lead, an elementary school superintendent went on record to say that "We do not test because it has never been brought up as a concern, nor is it a requirement to do so."
The reality is, even if schools choose to test for lead contamination, it’s much more complicated than testing in a residential home. In a residential home, EPA sampling protocols require that water be unused for 6 hours, in order to simulate the night and work day periods where water commonly sits stagnant in pipes. However, this protocol does not mimic how water is used in schools, because in addition to the 12 hours each school night the water goes unused, it sits stagnant for roughly 60 hours each weekend, and much longer periods over school vacations and summer.
How Can Schools Reduce Lead Contamination In Drinking Water?
Realistically, it’s probably cost-prohibitive for schools to replace all lead-containing plumbing or buy and maintain effective point of use drinking water filters that remove lead. When school administrators approach us for solutions, we always advise them to take immediate steps to identify lead containing plumbing, test their water for lead, and to implement regular pipe flushing protocols.
We encourage everyone to call their city's school department to better understand if and how lead is being tested for in schools. Because testing in schools is very complicated, we encourage people to ask for specifics of the testing program and actual results, not blanket assurances that everything is ok. As always, we encourage all readers to take advantage of our “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support. Technical support will answer your questions through email (firstname.lastname@example.org), free of charge, even if you have no plans to purchase a Hydroviv water filter.
Originally published on January 28, 2017. Updated May 9, 2017
What Do Municipalities Do To Prevent Lead From Leaching Into Drinking Water?
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?
Lead Contamination In Pittsburgh's Tap Water
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 1/23/2018 to include the most recent lead test data.
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
With lead contamination in the national spotlight, we get asked a lot of questions about water quality in major US cities. Because Hydroviv optimizes filters for each city's water, we spend a lot of time looking at water quality data and regulatory disclosures, not media commentary. This article gives a quick look at the lead problem in Pittsburgh’s water, and also provides some practical advice for Pittsburgh residents so they can minimize their exposure to lead from tap water.
How Lead Enters Pittsburgh’s Tap WaterThe lead crisis in Flint has brought nationwide attention to the fact that corrosive water can leach lead from lead-containing pipes, soldered joints, and plumbing fixtures. This means that if lead pipes are present in a city’s old infrastructure, the home’s plumbing predates 1986, or the fixtures predate 1998, there is an opportunity for lead contamination. Pittsburgh is an historic city with old infrastructure, so residents rely on municipal corrosion control measures to prevent contamination. Unfortunately for the residents of Pittsburgh, municipal corrosion control measures have not been able to keep lead from leaching from an aging infrastructure.
Lead In Pittsburgh’s Water Has Been Rising Since 2001 And Now Exceed The EPA Action Level
The concentration of lead from samples collected for regulatory purposes in Pittsburgh’s have been steadily climbing from 2001 to 2013. Despite nearly exceeding the EPA Action Level in 2013, and the clear decade-long upward trend, Pittsburgh did not report lead data again until 2016. Unexpectedly, lead concentrations jumped another 30% during this 3 year period of non-testing, and lead concentrations in Pittsburgh now exceed the EPA Action Level, with more than 17% of the samples collected as part of the regulatory testing coming in over the 15 part per billion (ppb) regulatory threshold. It's also important to point out that there is a difference between the regulatory limit and human toxicity, because US EPA acknowledges that the lead concentration where "there is no known or expected risk to health” is 0 ppb, not 15 ppb.
Update 1/23/2018: The most recent round of test data shows that lead levels continue to rise in Pittsburgh, and the 90th percentile concentration is now 21 ppb. Furthermore, more samples are coming in at much higher concentrations.
How Pittsburgh Residents Can Minimize Lead Exposure From Tap Water
- Allow water to run for at least 2 minutes before using it for drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula:
- Never use water from the hot water tap for drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula:
- Only operate the faucet at moderate flow when collecting water for drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula. This practice reduces the likelihood that lead-containing particles are swept into the water as it flows through the pipes.
- Regularly remove and clean out their faucet aerator, which removes lead-containing particles that may have become trapped in the mesh screen.
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 at email@example.com.
Sources Used In This Article
Other Great Articles We Think You'll EnjoyIs Fluoride In Tap Water Bad For You?
Best Way To Use A TDS Meter
What Are Disinfection Byproducts, And Why Should I Care?
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.
You probably don't want to change out the kitchen faucet in a place that you are renting, 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?