Lead In Drinking Water

As the lead in drinking water crisis continues in Flint, Mich., the Village of Alsip Water Department has compiled this list of frequently asked questions and answers for our customers.

We do not have first-hand information about what occurred in Flint, but this much seems clear: When Flint switched its water supply source; it did not take the required steps to manage water chemistry. The new water caused lead to leach from service lines and home plumbing – lead that ended up in water coming out of the taps.

Where does lead in drinking water come from?

  • Lead does not come from the treatment plant or water mains; it comes from lead service lines running between the water main in the street and the home, and from plumbing materials inside the home. Lead primarily enters drinking water from the corrosion of plumbing materials that contain lead and are in contact with the water. In our community, we do not have lead service lines in our system. Sources of lead in the home are older brass plumbing fixtures and lead solder that was used to join copper piping.

What is being done to eliminate lead in drinking water?

To address corrosion of lead and copper into drinking water, EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The LCR requires corrosion control treatment to prevent lead and copper from contaminating drinking water. Corrosion control treatment means systems must make drinking water less corrosive to the materials it comes into contact with on its way to consumers’ taps. The City of Chicago adds Blended Polyphosphate to our drinking water to coat pipes and prevent lead leaching. The Village of Alsip Water Department tests for lead in our drinking water as required by the LCR. The results of those tests are available in our consumer confidence report.

What is being done to eliminate lead in drinking water products?

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%. In 2011 Congress passed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (RLDWA)* revising the definition of lead free by lowering the maximum lead content of the wetted surfaces of plumbing products (such as pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures) from 8% to a weighted average of 0.25%,  establishing a statutory method for the calculation of lead content. The RLDWA requires manufacturers of drinking water products and fixtures to meet this new “lead free” standard effective January 4, 2014.

*Safe Drinking Water Act, § 1417

How can I tell that the plumbing products I purchase or already have in my home are in compliance with the RLDWA?

The Environmental Protection Agency has put together a “How to Identify Lead Free Certification Marks for Drinking Water System & Plumbing Products” document as a guide for consumers, available here. A certified plumber can check for lead solders in your internal pipes and look for fixtures containing lead.

What can I do if I am concerned about lead in my drinking water?

You can take several steps to limit possible exposure.

  • Testing at the tap is the only way to measure the lead levels in your home or workplace. You can’t see, smell or taste lead in your water. If you choose to have your tap water tested, be sure to use a properly certified laboratory. Testing usually costs between $20 and $100. If you need help locating a state certified laboratory, contact Alsip Water Department personnel.
  • Flush your tap water. Flushing the tap is particularly important when the faucet has gone unused for more than a few hours. It takes time for lead to dissolve into water, so the first water drawn from the tap in the morning or after a long period of non-use can contain higher levels of lead. Flushing clears standing water from your plumbing and home service line to ensure you are getting drinking water from the main, where lead is rarely present. Let the water run from the tap until it is noticeably colder (this may take up to two minutes or more) before using it for cooking or drinking.
  • Use only cold water for cooking or drinking. Lead leaches more easily into hot water than cold water.
  • Boiling water DOES NOT remove lead.
  • Remove faucet strainers and rinse them to remove any debris. This can be done periodically to remove accumulated debris as well.
  • Make sure lead-free materials are used when repairing plumbing in your home.

CONSERVATION TIP: use flushed water for non-potable purposes such as watering plants or washing dishes.

What should I do if I am concerned that I or a family member may have been exposed to lead?

Consult with your family doctor or pediatrician to learn more about the health effects associated with exposure and to receive a blood test for lead.

Are home treatment devices capable of removing lead from drinking water?

Some home treatment devices remove lead, but not all do. In order to make a well-informed and cost-effective decision, consider a device that has been independently certified to remove lead.

NSF International, the Water Quality Association, Underwriters Laboratories and CSA International all certify home treatment products for removal of contaminants. If a home treatment device is used, it is very important to follow the manufacturer’s operation and maintenance instructions carefully in order to make sure the device functions properly.

Where can I get more information about lead safety?

EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline: 1-800-426-4791

National Lead Information Center: 1-800-LEAD-FYI