Lead & Lead Service Lines
SYSTEM regularly tests your drinking water for a wide range of physical, microbiological, and chemical contaminants. You can learn more about these on our Water Quality page. It’s one of our key responsibilities to ensure your water is safe. We publish these results in community Water Quality Reports.
Lead is one of the contaminants we test for regularly, as its health impacts are serious. Fortunately, we know a lot about lead — how to find it and how to reduce or eliminate its hazards. Water utilities can pinpoint and eliminate sources of lead in their systems but drinking water may still be contaminated by lead in home plumbing pipes and fixtures.
The EPA’s ‘Get the Lead Out’ Initiative
In 1991, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which regulates lead and copper levels in public drinking water. It requires us to regularly test for both in our distribution systems.
As no level of lead is considered safe, the EPA has set a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of 0 ppb (parts per billion), with an Action Level of 15 ppb – the level at which utilities must notify the public and take appropriate actions to reduce concentrations.
In 2021, the EPA revised the LCR, requiring water utilities to identify where customer owned lead service lines exist. One way we're doing this is through the Lead Service Line Survey, which we encourage all customers to complete as soon as possible.
One of the most common sources of lead in drinking water are Lead Service Lines (LSLs) – the pipes that connect private plumbing systems to public watermains. These are typically the responsibility of the property owner. Finding and removing LSLs is a key goal of the revised LCR and will require a coordinated effort between utilities and customers to “Get the lead out”.
Lead in Drinking Water
Lead and Human Health
Lead is a metal found in underground rock formations, but lead from this source rarely appears in drinking water, and only in trace concentrations. Lead contamination of our environment is almost always the result of human activities, and in drinking water, occurs somewhere between its source and your tap.
Lead is poisonous to most large organisms. The human body has difficulty eliminating lead, so it accumulates over time in tissues and organs and causes a variety of serious conditions. Infants and children can have decreases in IQ and attention span, and it can cause new learning and behavior problems or exacerbate existing ones. The children of women who are exposed to lead before or during pregnancy can have increased risk of these adverse health effects. Adults can have increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or nervous system problems.
How Lead Gets into Drinking Water
Lead in drinking water is primarily from materials and components associated with service lines and home plumbing. SYSTEM is responsible for providing high quality drinking water and removing lead pipes, but cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components in your home. You share the responsibility for protecting yourself and your family from the lead in your home plumbing. You can take responsibility by identifying and removing lead materials within your home plumbing and taking steps to reduce your family’s risk. Before drinking tap water, flush your pipes for several minutes by running your tap, taking a shower, doing laundry or a load of dishes. You can also use a filter certified by an American National Standards Institute accredited certifier to reduce lead in drinking water. If you are concerned about lead in your water and wish to have your water tested, please contact us. Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available at the EPA's Lead in Drinking Water website.
Older household plumbing (pre-1990s) may contain lead in water service lines, lead solders, and plumbing fixtures (particularly those made of brass). Galvanized iron pipes, common prior to the 1960s, can also attract lead particles and then release them into the water as they corrode. As all these components age, greater amounts of lead leach into the water, particularly when water is left standing in pipes for long periods. It’s also possible for larger lead particles to dislodge and enter drinking water.
In the U.S., the use of lead in household plumbing products has been steadily reduced or eliminated since the late 1980s. As such, homes built or renovated after this time have a lower likelihood of lead contamination, however; the only way to be entirely sure is with proper testing.
How Do I Know if I Have Lead in my Drinking Water?
Lead in drinking water is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, so the only way of knowing if your home’s plumbing contains lead is: 1) inspection of your plumbing, covered below; or 2) sampling and laboratory testing.
If you think your home has been tested before, the property owner would have received a letter of notification with laboratory test results. If no such letter exists, assume your water hasn’t been tested. Lead contamination is home-specific, so even if a neighbor has been tested, their results may be different from yours.
Reducing Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water
In the absence of test results, there are some things you can do to reduce your exposure if you think your home’s plumbing may have lead.
- When water hasn’t been used for several hours, run all taps used for drinking and cooking. The flushing process could take from 30 seconds to 2 minutes or longer until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature. This will help flush lead-containing water from pipes. To conserve water, use this flushing water for washing, or watering plants, as lead in drinking water is only hazardous when ingested.
- Never use hot tap water for drinking, cooking, or making baby formula. Hot water dissolves and carries lead more easily.
- Boiling water won’t remove lead and may even increase its concentration. Aside to filtering, there’s nothing that can be done or added to drinking water to remove lead.
- Water Filters: There are a wide variety of water filters on the market – from simple pour-through pitcher style filters to professionally installed plumbed-in filter systems. Some filters can remove lead, but if you’re considering this route, be sure to choose one that is tested and certified. We recommend those certified by NSF International. Regardless of the type, be sure you replace filtering media and maintain the filter according to manufacturer's instructions.
These measures should be considered temporary. You should do a visual lead test (below), and have your water tested as soon as possible.
Lead Service Lines
Water service lines are the underground pipes that connect home plumbing systems to public watermains. Water service lines can be made of plastic, copper, galvanized steel or iron, and lead, and metal pipes may use lead in soldered joints.
Lead Service Lines (LSLs) were installed up until the 1980s, and while many have been replaced, there are still large numbers in use. The EPA has made the finding and replacement of LSLs a public health priority.