According to the Environmental Defense Fund, over 6 million homes in America have lead service lines. This means the pipes used to run water into homes and businesses from the water main in the street are made of lead.
This is important for several reasons; most notably the impact lead service lines can have on public health. We know lead exposure can cause serious illness for everyone, but vulnerable members of the population, such as children and expectant mothers, are even more at risk from the dangers of lead poisoning.
Lead poisoning can come from water that has been contaminated through a lead pipe, as lead can leach into the water in varying concentrations before coming out of taps. Cities and municipalities run water tests to ensure the water they provide is safe to drink, but that doesn’t mean they have accounted for your individual home or service lines, as this is considered the homeowner’s responsibility.
What is a Lead Water Service Line?
Service lines are the pipes responsible for bringing water directly into your home from the water main buried in the street. Until the mid 1980s, plumbing pipes and solder were commonly made of lead. If you live in an older home, it’s especially important to check your service lines for lead. And whether pipes themselves are made of lead, or simply soldered with lead, the risk of contaminating your drinking water is still present.
How Can I Tell If I Have Lead Service Lines?
The majority of residential water service lines are either copper, galvanized steel, or lead. In order to determine which yours is, you first need to identify your home’s water main. These are typically found either in the garage, basement, or outside near an exterior wall. If you’ve ever turned off the water to your house, this is the same fixture you’re looking for.
Once you’ve located your water main, you need to expose a portion of the pipe itself – many pipes, especially those outdoors, will have been corroded over time and some may even be covered in tape or other protective material.
You can tell a few things just by looking at the metal component of the pipe — If it’s colored like a penny then it’s most likely copper. If you can’t tell what kind of material the pipe is by looking, you’ll need to use a tool like the end of a flathead screwdriver or a coin to gently scratch the surface of the pipe. Shiny silver indicates either steel or lead and to tell the difference you’ll need a magnet.
If the magnet sticks to your pipe, it’s not lead — magnets will only stick to steel or copper pipes. If a magnet doesn’t stick to your pipe, and it can be easily scratched, there’s a pretty good chance it’s lead.
My House Has Lead Water Service Lines — What Now?
The first step if you determine you have lead water lines is to stop drinking and using the water immediately. Call a plumber to set up a consultation and consider installing a whole home water filter or a point-of-use water filter like our Aquasential Tankless RO Drinking Water Filter System that’s rated specifically for lead removal. Look for the NSF/ANSI Standard label or certification on any water filter you’re considering to be sure it can remove lead safely.
If you have any other questions about lead service lines in your neighborhood, or how Culligan of the Pacific Northwest can help, let us know, today!
Situations such as the lead contamination scandal Flint, Michigan have revitalized attention on lead in water, and the harmful effects it can have on our health. Lead is still common in plumbing in the Pacific Northwest, and lead in drinking water can have serious consequences for adults and especially children.
The History of Lead in Drinking Water
Lead lends itself very easily to building pipes – like those used for transporting water. It’s malleable, relatively cheap to use and, as a result, its use in plumbing dates back to early Roman cities. Lead piping was also the standard in the United States until the 1920s and 30s, when concerns about lead poisoning became better understood.
Why Lead in Water is Dangerous
In addition to its once widespread use, and continued use in some plumbing fittings and solder, lead is virtually undetectable in water. Since you can’t see, taste, or smell it, prolonged exposure can be all-too-common. Lead in drinking water is especially harmful for young children and pregnant women, but is not safe for anyone to consume, in any concentration.
Effects of Lead in Drinking Water
For children, the effects of consuming lead-contaminated water are especially high. Once consumed, lead remains in our bodies or ‘bioaccumulates’ as we can’t flush the contaminant from our system. Once there, lead can cause serious behavioral and cognitive problems for children, and over time it can lead to:
- Low IQ
- Slowed, delayed, and stunted growth
- Problems hearing
- Seizures, coma, and possibly even death in severe situations
Lead also crosses the placenta, so it’s especially important for pregnant women to avoid drinking water contaminated with lead. In addition to harming the mother, it can cause stunted fetal growth and premature birth.
For the average adult, lead exposure from water can cause heart and cardiovascular issues, reduce kidney function, and contribute to reproductive problems. The degree and severity of these issues depends on how much lead you’ve been exposed too, and how much is stored in your body, though governing health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) caution that no amount of lead is safe.
Home Lead Water Testing In Pacific Northwest
You can learn about your city or municipality’s water supply through the EPA-required water quality reports that should be available on your water bureau’s website. Water quality reports are required every year, and the results should be published and available to the public.
However, the only way to determine if your home’s water has lead in it is to run a chemical test specifically designed to indicate the presence of lead. This is important because even if your city or county’s water is known to be safe, the pipes, fixtures, and fittings surrounding your individual home may not be. Old solder and pipes have been responsible for various levels of lead in water around the country.
Your local Culligan Man can test your water for lead, as well as any other contaminants. You can also find home water tests in your local hardware store – just read the labels carefully to make sure they’re intended for lead detection. In most cases, you’ll have to collect a water sample from your tap and mail it off for testing, with results back in a few weeks.
If you find out there is lead in your water, or you suspect there could be, it’s important to stop drinking it immediately. Drink and use only bottled water until you can install a water treatment or filtration system.
Learn more about lead in water, or schedule a home lead water test today with Culligan of the Pacific Northwest to make sure your drinking water is safe if you have any concerns.