This page will let you know how lead can get into your tap water and how you can reduce potential exposure to lead in your home.
If you have questions or would like more information about lead in drinking water, please call the MassDEP Drinking Water Program at 617-292-5770, or email Program.Director-DWP@state.ma.us.
How Can Lead Get into My Water?
Lead can leach into tap water if the service line that connects your home to the water main in the street is made of lead. The pipes that carry water in the street are usually made of iron or steel, and do not add lead to your water. If you have concerns about your service line, you should contact your local water department (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/drinking/health-and-safety.html#4 - click on MA Public Water Supplier contacts sorted by Town ).
Lead can also get into tap water if you have lead pipes in your home. Lead can also enter tap water if you have lead solder on pipes or brass fixtures in your home. Homes built before 1989, when lead solder was banned, will likely contain lead solder. Corrosion or wearing-away of lead-based materials can add lead to tap water, especially if water sits for a long time in the pipes before use.
How to Reduce Potential Exposure to Lead
To reduce your potential exposure, you should always use fresh, cold, running water for drinking and cooking. You should always buy plumbing fixtures that have zero- or low-lead levels. Read the labels of any new plumbing fixtures closely. Get your water tested by a MassDEP certified laboratory (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/drinking/certified-laboratories.html#1 - click on Find MassDEP-Certified Laboratories ).
Here are more steps you can take:
- Run tap water until after the water feels cold. Then fill a pitcher with fresh water and place in the refrigerator for future use.
- Never use hot water from the faucet for drinking or cooking, especially when making baby formula or food for infants. Hot water can leach more lead into water than cold.
- Do not boil water to reduce lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead levels. In fact, because of evaporation while boiling it will increase the concentration of lead.
- Be careful of places you may find lead in your home. Some household items such as pottery, makeup, toys, and jewelry may contain lead. Lead paint was outlawed in 1978, but paint, soil, and dust from homes that still have lead paint are the most common source of exposure to lead. Therefore, make sure to wash your children's hands and toys often as they come into contact with dirt and dust containing lead.
- Ask your local water department (click on MA Public Water Supplier contacts sorted by Town ) if there are lead service lines leading to your home.
- Call the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (1-800-532-9571) for health information.
- Get your home's water tested at a lab that is MassDEP certified (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/drinking/certified-laboratories.html#1 - click on Find MassDEP-Certified Laboratories ) to test household tap water for lead.
How to Get Your Home's Tap Water Tested for Lead
The best way to find out if your household tap water contains lead is to get your water tested by a lab that is MassDEP certified to test household tap water for lead. MassDEP certified labs reliably test water at an affordable cost. Mail-in and drop-off options are available. Visit the MassDEP Certified Lab web page (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/drinking/certified-laboratories.html) for a list of labs and helpful links.
About Lead Service Lines
A service line is the pipe that connects your house to the water main in the street. Some service lines that run from older homes (usually those built before 1940) to the utility water main are made from lead. Over time, many of these older service lines have been replaced, but your home could still have one.
How to Tell if You Have a Lead Service Line
To determine if your home has a lead service line you (or your plumber) need to inspect the service line.
Lead service lines are generally a dull gray color and are very soft. You can identify them easily by carefully scratching with a key. If the pipe is made of lead, the area you've scratched will turn a bright silver color. Do not use a knife or other sharp instrument and take care not to puncture a hole in the pipe.
Ownership of the lead service line is typically shared between homeowners and you local water department. The homeowner typically owns the section of the pipe that is under the homeowner's property. A lead service line replacement requires participation from both the water department and the homeowner.
The actual cost of service line replacement reflects a number of factors including the length of the service line, the technique used to install the new service line, and the environment where the service line is located.
Please contact your local water department (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/drinking/health-and-safety.html#4 - click on MA Public Water Supplier contacts sorted by Town ) to learn more about options for lead service line replacement and any payment assistance possible.
When replacing lead service lines, it is best to replace the entire lead service line and not just a portion of it. The surest way to remove concerns about lead from lead service lines is to get all the lead out by removing the entire service line.
If a pregnant woman or child lives in your home, replacing the entire service line can be an important way to reduce the potential for lead exposure.
Under direction from the US EPA, MassDEP requires your local water department to test tap water in a sample of homes that are likely to have high lead levels. These are usually homes with lead service lines or lead solder.
The Action Level (AL) for lead is 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/L), a.k.a. 15 parts per billion (ppb). The AL is compared to the 90th percentile value of all sampling results collected during each monitoring period. (Meaning, that if more than 10 out of 100 samples taken exceed 15 ppb, then the AL is exceeded.) Exceeding the AL is not a violation, however, if the 90th percentile value exceeds the lead AL, additional actions are required. These actions include collecting additional water quality data, including a sample of the source water, conducting public education, and evaluating corrosion control treatment, and installing it if needed. If corrosion control treatment was in place at time of the exceedance, then a lead service line replacement program should commence.
Your local water department may already be treating your tap water to make it less corrosive, thereby reducing the leaching of lead into the drinking water. This type of treatment is called corrosion control. You can contact your local water department (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/drinking/health-and-safety.html#4 - click on MA Public Water Supplier contacts sorted by Town )to find out what is being done to control lead in your tap/drinking water.
Important Information about the Health Risk of Lead from US EPA
Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body. The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children, and pregnant women. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead more than healthy adults. Lead is stored in the bones, and it can be released later in life. During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother's bones, which may affect brain development.
If you are concerned about exposure to lead, talk to your local health care provider about having your or your child's blood tested for lead. A blood level test is the only way to know if you are being exposed to lead.
It is possible that lead levels in your home may be higher than levels in other homes in your community as a result of materials used in your home's plumbing. If you are concerned about lead levels in your home's water, you may wish to have your water tested (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/drinking/certified-laboratories.html#1 - click on Find MassDEP-Certified Laboratories ).
- US EPA Lead Information (http://www.epa.gov/lead)
- CDC Lead Information (http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/)
- Mass.gov and DPH Lead Testing (http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/state-lab/services/lead-testing.html)
Should I Buy a Home Filtration System or Bottled Water?
Simply running your tap until the water is noticeably colder, after the water has been sitting for several hours, is usually a much cheaper and effective alternative to a filter or bottled water. Some water filtration systems do not remove lead. Before you purchase a filter, you should verify the manufacturer's claim. A good resource is the National Sanitation Foundation (1-877-867-3435). If your water has elevated levels of lead after flushing, bottled water is also an option, but it may cost as much as 1,000 times more than tap water.
For more information on lead in school or childcare facilities see Lead & Copper in Schools (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/drinking/lead-and-other-contaminants-in-drinking-water.html#8).