Lead in Water
Lead is a common metal found in lead-based paint, air, oil, household dust, food, water, and certain types of pottery porcelain and pewter. The most common source of lead in drinking water is the corrosion, or wearing away, of household plumbing fixtures and water system components that contain trace amounts of lead. To minimize risk, both the state and federal governments limit the amount of lead allowed in materials to deliver tap water, such as pipes, solder, faucets, and other plumbing fixtures.
Washington Water monitors for lead (and copper) in drinking water once every three years as required by law. Samples are collected by customers from their kitchen tap. The number of homes sampled is based on population served by the system, and specific EPA site-selection criteria are used to determine which homes can participate. The results of the most recent round of Lead and Copper Monitoring is shown in your system's annual water quality report. If you are unsure about lead levels in your home, or if your home was constructed before 1986 (when lead solder, used to join copper plumbing, was banned in Washington state), you may wish to take these precautions:
- Flush your lines. Anytime the faucet has been unused for more than six hours, before using the water for drinking or cooking, let it run from the cold water tap until the water gets noticeably colder, which is usually about 15 to 30 seconds. If your house has a lead service line to the water meter, you may have to flush the water for a longer time, perhaps one minute, before drinking. Lead pipes are typically no longer found in homes; however, they could still be present in older homes.
- Flush new pipes. Remove loose lead solder and debris from the plumbing materials installed in newly constructed homes, or homes in which the plumbing has recently been replaced, by removing the faucet strainers from all taps and running the water for 3 to 5 minutes. Thereafter, periodically remove the strainers and flush out any debris that has accumulated over time.
- Replace pipes joined with lead solder. If your copper pipes are joined with lead solder that has been installed illegally since it was banned in 1986, notify the plumber who did the work and request that he or she replace the lead solder with lead-free solder. Lead solder looks dull gray, and when scratched with a key looks shiny. In addition, notify the Washington State Department of Health Office of Drinking Water about the violation.
- Avoid cooking with or drinking water from the hot water tap. Hot water can dissolve lead more quickly than cold water. If you need hot water, draw water from the cold tap and heat it.
- Find out if the service line connecting your residence to the water meter is made of lead. It would be unusual to have a lead service line connecting your home to the meter today; however, they could still exist for older residences. The best way to determine if your service line is made of lead is by either hiring a licensed plumber to inspect the line or by contacting the plumbing contractor who installed the line. You can identify the plumbing contractor by checking the record of building permits issued for your residence. A licensed plumber can, at the same time, check to see if your home's plumbing contains lead solder, lead pipes, or pipe fittings that contain lead.
- Have an electrician check your wiring. If grounding wires from the electrical system are attached to your pipes, corrosion may be greater. Check with a licensed electrician or your local electrical code to determine if your wiring can be grounded elsewhere. DO NOT attempt to change the wiring yourself, because improper grounding can cause electrical shock and fire hazards.