Where lead comes from, what you can do about it, and how to get lead service line information from your local water department.
Concerns and information about lead in tap water
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. More information about lead service lines is below.
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 in the pipes for a long time before use. Information about reducing your potential exposure to lead is further down this page.
About Lead Service Lines
The 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 lead. 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 by carefully scratching with a key. On a lead pipe, 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.
Lead Service Line Replacement
Homeowners and the local water department usually share ownership of the service line. The homeowner owns the section of the pipe that is under the homeowner's property. Lead service line replacement needs the participation of both the water department and the homeowner.
The actual cost of service line replacement reflects several factors, including the length of the service line, the technique used to install the new service line, and where the service line is located.
Please contact your local water department to learn more about options for lead service line replacement and possible financial aid.
When replacing lead service lines, it is best to replace the entire service line rather than a section of it. The surest way to remove concerns about lead from 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.
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 carefully. Have a MassDEP-certified laboratory test your water.
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, it will actually increase the concentration of lead due to evaporation during boiling.
- Be careful of places in your home where you may find lead. Some household items such as pottery, makeup, toys, and jewelry may contain lead. Lead paint has been illegal since 1978, but paint, soil, and dust from homes that still have lead paint are the most common source of exposure to lead. So 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 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 MassDEP has certified to test household 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 MassDEP-certified lab. Certified labs test water at an affordable cost. Mail-in and drop-off options are available.
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. (This means that the sample exceeds the action level if more than 10 out of 100 samples taken exceed 15 ppb.) Exceeding the AL is not a violation, but if the 90th percentile value exceeds the lead AL, the water department must take further action. These actions include:
- collecting more water quality data, including a sample of the source water
- conducting public education
- evaluating corrosion control treatment, and installing it if needed.
If corrosion control treatment was in place at the time of the exceedance, then a lead service line replacement program should begin.
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 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. Our bones store lead, and can release it later in life. During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother's bones, which may affect brain development.
If you have concerns about exposure to lead, talk to your local health care provider about having your or your child's blood tested. 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 have concerns about lead levels in your home's water, you may wish to have your water tested.
Should I Buy a Home Filtration System or Bottled Water?
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 buy 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.
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.