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

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
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

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 Drinking Water

The 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 Concentrations In Pittsburgh’s Water Have 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

If residents choose not to filter their water for lead, we highly recommend that they request a free lead test kit and take the following measures to reduce their risk.   

  • 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 support@hydroviv.com.

Sources Used In This Article

Source Water Assessment For Allegheny River
2016 PWSA Lead Results Disclosure
2015 Consumer Confidence Report
US EPA Table Of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants And Definitions

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What Is The Best Water Filter For Apartments Or Condos?

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.

Universal Connections

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.

Size

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. 

Deposit Considerations

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.  

Portability

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. 

 

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

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?