6 Ways to Help Reduce Lead in Your Home Tap Water & Why it’s Important

Check for lead in your tap water

If you have lead in your drinking water it can be a serious health concern for everyone in your family. Flush your faucets in the morning and when water has not been used for over 6 hours, and call your local water utility to see how you can get your home’s tap water checked for lead. Photo by Karolina Grabowska

If you have lead in your tap water it can cause serious health problems when ingested. Lead in drinking water is a serious health concern for people of any age, but especially for pregnant women, infants, and children, where it can slow growth and development, cause learning and behavioral problems, trouble hearing, hyperactivity and anemia.

During pregnancy lead can damage fetal brain, kidney, and nervous system development, cause low birthweight, premature birth and increase the risk of having a miscarriage. In other adults, lead can lead to cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, hypertension, lower kidney function and cause reproductive problems.

Lead isn’t usually found in drinking water at its source (groundwater, reservoirs), but it can find its way into your house through the pipes and plumbing system. Over time, lead could leach into your drinking water through the corrosion of lead-containing plumbing and fixtures inside your home.

Household plumbing materials that could corrode and let lead dissolve in your drinking water includes some solders used to join copper pipes, chrome based faucets, brass, and in some cases the main water service line (the pipe that carries water from the water main under the street to your home) could be made from lead or have a lead lining.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) there are approximately 9.7 million to 12.8 million service lines, spread across all 50 states, that are probably made with lead. Even new brass faucets, fittings and valves advertised as “lead free” could include small amounts of lead.

9.7 million to 12.8 million service lines across all 50 states are probably made with lead. Source: NRDC .
9.7 million to 12.8 million service lines across all 50 states are probably made with lead. Source: NRDC.org.

How to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Your Drinking Water

If your home has a lead service line, lead pipes or corroded plumbing system, the first water that comes out of the faucets in the morning, or any other time your tap water sits still without running a faucet for more than six hours, could have high amounts of lead in it. Here are six ways to help find out if your water contains lead and how to remove it.

"Flushing" out the lead

The longer water sits in the pipes the more lead it can contain, so before using tap water for drinking and cooking, let the faucet run for a while if it has not been used for more than 6 hours. “Flushing the tap” means running the cold water faucet based on the length of the service line and plumbing in your home. Run the water until it becomes cold. Flushing the toilet and showering will flush a part of the plumbing system out, but you’ll still need to flush the water from each faucet in your house before using.

Pipe soldering
Copper pipe solder can contain lead that will corrode your home's plumbing system. Photo by Eugene Brennan

Don't use hot tap water for cooking or drinking

Lead dissolves more easily in warm water than it does in cold water, so don’t use hot tap water to drink or cook with, and never use warm water to prepare baby formula. For hot water, it’s better to boil cold tap water (although boiling water will not remove lead, cold tap water generally has less lead than warm or hot water does) and use good bottled or filtered water in baby formula.

Clean or replace the aerators on faucets

Over time, sediment and particles can collect in the faucet’s aerators (located at the tip of the faucet)  so be sure to check the aerator screens regularly and clean or replace them as necessary.

Use a water filter

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that water filters are needed to reduce or remove the many chemicals that contaminate drinking water, some of which are linked to cancer. A good carbon filter will remove lead, and a good faucet mount water filter is inexpensive and easy to install. Use a filter that is approved to remove lead.

Reverse osmosis units and water softeners

Although water softeners and reverse osmosis units remove lead they can also make your water more corrosive to your home’s plumbing system, since they remove certain minerals. So it’s best to have these water treatments installed by a professionally licensed plumber or a qualified water treatment professional.

Have an electrician inspect your home's wiring

If your home’s electrical system has grounding wires attached to your water pipes the chance of corrosion increases. Have a licensed electrician inspect your home’s electrical system to see if the wires can be grounded to other things.

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    Thomas Edison Electric Inc.

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    CR Appliance Repair

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    Hoffmann Brothers

You can’t taste, smell or see lead in drinking water, so how can you tell if you have lead in your tap water? If your home was built before 1987, find out if you have lead pipes or lead soldering on the pipes, or if the main line is lead. You can check yourself or hire a licensed plumber, and call your local water utility company to find out if the main service line is lead. If you find you do have a lead service line, ask if there are any programs that can help to replace it.

Also, find out if you have brass fittings, faucets or valves that aren’t defined as lead free, and replace them with ones that are.

And most importantly, call your local water utility company to see how to get your water tested for lead.

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