Lead in Drinking Water From Household Plumbing

Last updated May 30, 2019 - 9:16 am
*Lead-based solder used to join copper pipe

Lead is commonly found in a variety of places throughout our environment. While lead is rarely found in our source waters, it can be found in some homes. Lead enters drinking water from the corrosion (wearing away) of household plumbing materials containing lead. These materials include lead-based solder used to join copper pipe--commonly used in homes built or plumbed between 1962 and 1987, and brass components and faucets.  Some homes built before 1970 may have galvanized iron service lines with lead components.

Important Information About Lead in Your Drinking Water

Other Sources of Lead

Lead can dissolve into drinking water when the water sits in those pipes for several hours, such as overnight. This means the water first drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon after returning from work or school, may contain higher levels of lead. Even new faucets, fittings, and valves, including those advertised as ‘lead-free,’ may leach lead when water has remained stagnant for extended periods of time. The most common sources of lead exposure are lead-based paint, household dust, soil, and plumbing materials. Lead can also be found in some imported consumer products such as toys, cosmetics and pottery.

How Does Lead Enter our Drinking Water?

Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants. It seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away, of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household plumbing. These materials include lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, brass and chrome-plated brass faucets, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect houses and buildings to water mains (service lines). The City of Raleigh is not aware of any lead service lines in the water system, although there are some service lines that are made of galvanized iron with lead components.  In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2% lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0%.

When water stands in lead pipes or plumbing systems containing lead for several hours or more, the lead may dissolve into your drinking water. This means the first water drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon if the water has not been used all day, may contain higher levels of lead. Lead in Drinking water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning can significantly increase a person’s total lead exposure. Infants are exposed if they are given baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water containing lead.

How is the City Reducing the Risks of Lead in Water?

City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department maintains an active program to minimize the risk of lead exposure through its drinking water supply. Operations staff carefully monitor and adjust pH levels of water to a specific range that reduces the corrosive nature of the water, and corrosion inhibitor is added in our water treatment process to create a protective film on pipes that reduces the release of metals, such as lead, from household plumbing.

The US EPA Lead and Copper Rule compliance is based on the 90th percentile of samples collected during each monitoring period from homes built in the target period between 1982 and 1985 or homes served by lead service lines.  The City of Raleigh system is below the action level for lead and below the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for copper and is in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule.

The City of Raleigh has always been in compliance with the EPA Lead and Copper Rule.  The City is currently on reduced monitoring for lead and copper and is required to monitor for lead and copper every three years.  Based on the population served, the City is required to monitor at least 50 homes for lead and copper during the compliance year.  We currently have 110 homes listed in our Lead and Copper Compliance Monitoring Plan.

The City of Raleigh stays proactive when it comes to public health and safety, in addition to our compliance monitoring; the City has a Volunteer Lead and Copper Program.  This allows our customers to have their water tested anytime for lead and copper by our laboratory staff at no cost to the customer.

What are the Health Effects of Lead?

Lead is found throughout the environment in lead-based paint, air, soil, household dust, food, certain types of pottery, porcelain and pewter, and water. Lead can pose a significant risk to your health if too much of it enters your body. Lead builds up in the body over many years and can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys.  The greatest risk is to young children and pregnant women.  Amounts of lead that won’t hurt adults can slow down normal mental and physical development of growing bodies. In addition, a child at play often comes into contact with sources of lead contamination—like dirt and dust—that rarely affects adults. It is important to wash children’s hands and toys often, and to try to make sure they only put food in their mouths.

Helpful Tips on Reducing Your Potential Exposure to Lead in Your Drinking Water

Run Your Tap
Let the water run from the tap before using it for drinking or cooking if it has been unused for more than six hours. The longer water resides in plumbing that contain lead solder or lead components, the more likely it is to contain lead. Flushing the tap means running the cold water faucet for about 30 seconds. Although toilet flushing or showering flushes water through a portion of the plumbing system, you still need to flush the water in each faucet before using it for drinking or cooking.  Flushing tap water is a simple and inexpensive measure you can take to protect your health.

Use Cold Tap Water for Drinking, Cooking and Making Baby Formula
Avoid using hot tap water for drinking, cooking or making baby formula and baby cereal. Lead can dissolve more easily in hot tap water.

Clean Your Faucet Screens
Sometimes lead and sediment can build up on the individual screens at your faucets. To clean them, periodically take off the faucet strainers from all taps and run the water for 3 to 5 minutes.

If you are a City of Raleigh utility customer, as a compliment of our Water Efficiency Program, you may request  one (1) kitchen aerator, and two (2) bathroom faucet aerators per household—Free of charge.

Request Free Kitchen and Bathroom Aerators

When Making Plumbing Repairs or Additions…

…always insist that “lead free” solder be used. Inspection of the plumbing system in your home should be performed by a licensed plumber. They can reveal whether your system presents a lead contamination potential due to lead pipe plumbing or illegal lead solder.

Have an Electrician Check Wiring
If grounding wires are attached to pipes, it can cause corrosion.

Drinking Water Test Kit (Lead and Copper Testing)

*Photo of a Water Test Kit

If you are concerned about potential elevated lead levels in your home’s water, you may wish to have your water tested.

Due to the current work load and backlog of Lead and Copper samples from our compliance sampling period we will not be able to analyze your water samples at this time.

We will resume the volunteer Lead and Copper sampling program starting October 1st, 2019. If you would prefer to have the test before October 1st, please contact the Wake County Health Department Water Quality Lab at 919-250-4437. This lab can analyze your water samples for lead and copper at a fee of $20.00.

Information for Local Businesses

The North Carolina Department Environmental Quality, Public Water Supply at 919-791-4200 can provide you with information about your facility's water supply.

Wake County Health Department at 919-856–7400 can provide you with more information about the health effects of lead.

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