Lead in Water

PMI’s Safe, Responsible Approach

washing hands

Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI) represents companies that manufacture plumbing products, which undergo strict safety and performance testing. PMI advocates for safe plumbing and sanitation that protects the public’s health, including reducing lead in water. PMI was a leader in developing and passing the bipartisan Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act. PMI member companies have invested significantly to develop and manufacture products that comply both with lead-in-plumbing laws and with stringent NSF/ANSI/CAN 61: Q ≤ 1 requirements, to certify those products, and to continue to meet the evolving needs of consumers.

Where lead comes from and what can be done about it

Reducing lead in drinking water is critical to ensure the safety of our communities and children. This website content aims to explain how lead enters the water system and what can be done to reduce lead levels at your home, school or business.

Plumbing Manufacturers International and its members were leaders in developing and securing passage of the bipartisan Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which became effective on Jan. 4, 2014. This law lowered the amount of lead that can be used across the wetted surfaces of pipes, fittings and fixtures to a weighted average of 0.25% lead or less. Since then, plumbing manufactures have continued to reduce lead from products through the use of materials such as brass alloys, other metals, ceramics or plastics.

Where does the lead come from?

Bear in mind that the use of lead in water pipes goes back thousands of years; lead was chosen by ancient civilizations for piping because of its ability to resist pinhole leaks while being soft enough to form into shapes that deliver water efficiently.

Many municipal water systems and the homes and other buildings they serve have been around for a long time, too, long before the dangers of lead were identified. According to the “10 Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure” Health Impact Project report from the Pew Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the average age of a school in 2017 was 44 years. As a result, lead may still be present in the service lines connecting the water main to your home or school, in the solder used to connect pipes, and in older brass faucets and valves located in kitchens and baths. The report’s top recommendation includes the action of replacing lead service lines that provide drinking water to homes and “other places children frequent.”

A study by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Contribution of Service Line and Plumbing Fixtures to Lead and Copper Rule Compliance Issues," concluded that 50% to 75% of the amount of lead measured at the tap originated from lead in service lines, 20% to 35% from on-premise piping, and only 1% to 3% from faucets and immediate connective piping. Because this study was published in 2008, prior to the 2014 Reduction in Lead in Water Act, the percentage coming from faucets is now likely lower.

How can lead enter the water system?

Lead from services lines and other materials can corrode and “leach” into the water. To minimize this corrosion and leaching, water utilities treat the water; this carefully controlled water chemistry is designed to protect the thin layers of biofilm and scale deposits lining water pipes. Barring other factors contributing to corrosion, these layers separate the water from the metal and keep the water safe to drink.

How can you assess the risk of lead in its water?

  1. Check with your water utility. The first step is to talk with your local water utility. Water utilities generally issue water quality reports that assess the average amount of lead and other contaminants found in water before it leaves the water treatment plant. Your local water utility also can tell you if there are lead service lines running from the water main to home or school property.
  2. Check records or ask a plumber. Home or school records or a check by a plumber or school maintenance staff can tell if your home or school has underground lead service lines on its property or if pipes have lead solder.

    Any lead in your water is mostly likely coming from lead service lines and solder. In addition, older faucets and valves may have higher lead content than what is now allowable by the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act.

    It’s important to understand that the risk of lead is determined by the amount of this contaminant in the water, not in the pipes or plumbing materials. It’s possible to have relatively low levels of lead in your water despite having lead in your service lines and other plumbing materials. Today, the amount of lead in water depends on factors relating to the broader water system and conditions impacting it.
  3. Test the water for lead. If you still do not have a clear picture of your risks after checking with your water utility or plumber, you can use a state-certified drinking water laboratory or a lab approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test water samples for lead.

What can be done to reduce lead in water?

How to best reduce lead in water depends upon what is causing lead to enter the water. After conducting due diligence to find the root of the problem, here are some actions you can take:

  1. Replace lead service lines and pipes with lead solder. While this option would most likely reduce lead the most, it is a very expensive and disruptive proposition. The EPA estimates that replacing the nation’s estimated 65 million to 100 million services lines would cost from $16 billion to $80 billion. Replacing the lines leading to a home or school could cost several thousands of dollars or more than $100,000. The EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund provides money in some states for projects of this nature. Ask your water utility if local assistance programs are available as well.
  2. Replace older brass faucets and valves located in kitchens and baths, as well as older drinking fountains. They should be replaced with new ones manufactured after the passing of the 2014 Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which mandates a weighted average lead content of equal to or less than 0.25%. However, while prudent, replacing these fixtures and fittings without replacing lead service pipes and removing lead solder may only reduce lead levels slightly, as most lead originates from lead service lines and solder.
  3. Install filters. Many filtration systems certified to reduce lead can be purchased. Look for NSF/ANSI Standard 53 on the package. Although many of these systems are meant to filter only a few gallons of water at a time, they can be kept in kitchens, classrooms, break rooms and refrigerators for drinking purposes.

Where can I find new products meeting lead-free requirements?

Purchase plumbing products certified as lead-free according to industry standards NSF 61/ANSI/CAN 61: Q ≤ 1 and NSF 372. NSF 61/ANSI/CAN 61: Q ≤ 1 evaluates all potential contaminants, including lead, from plumbing products that are a part of a drinking water system. NSF 372 evaluates plumbing products for a weighted average lead content of equal to or less than 0.25% in accordance with the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act.

Virtually all new products manufactured by reputable companies meet these requirements. For more detailed advice on what to look for on labeling and packaging, see this EPA document, “How to Identify Lead Free Certification Marks for Drinking Water System & Plumbing Products.”

What are everyday things you can do to reduce exposure to lead in water?

  • As a routine practice, flush faucets for 30 to 60 seconds first thing in the morning, again at the end of the day, or anytime the water hasn’t run for six hours or more. Running the water gives it less time to come into contact with any lead that may be in the plumbing. Using water for a shower, laundry or dishwashing accomplishes this flushing, as well.
  • Use only cold water for drinking, cooking and preparing baby formula.
  • Do not use water from bathtub fixtures, showerheads, industrial faucets or hose bibs for drinking or cooking
  • Remove and clean or replace aerators in faucets used for drinking or cooking water every six months to a year.

Reference material

This “Do you have lead pipes in your home?” interactive tool was developed by National Public Radio.

This Michigan Public Radio story, “Do you have lead in your pipes and faucets?”, offers additional advice on how to reduce the risk of lead in water.

The AWWA “Get the Lead Out Video” provides detail on lead in water in an interesting and visual way.