Every year during the first full week of May, Americans across the country join together to celebrate water, our most precious natural resource, during National Drinking Water Week.
Whether you live in an apartment or single family home, in an old or new neighborhood, lead is in your environment. It can be found in lead-based paint, soil, household dust, food, tap water, and certain types of pottery, porcelain, and pewter. Lead can pose a risk to your health if too much of it enters the body. Most cases of lead poisoning are from contact with peeling lead paint and lead paint dust. While lead in tap water is rarely the single cause of lead poisoning, it can increase a person's total lead exposure, particularly in infants who drink baby formula or concentrated juices that are mixed with water.
The water provided by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) is lead-free when it leaves the reservoirs. MWRA and local distribution pipes of the BWSC that carry the water are made mostly of iron and steel, and therefore do not add lead to water. However, lead can get into tap water through home service piping, lead solder used in plumbing, and some brass fixtures. The corrosion or wearing away of these lead-based materials can add lead to tap water, particularly if water sits for a long time in the pipes before use.
To monitor lead levels, MWRA and BWSC test tap water in homes in the City of Boston. Under EPA regulations, homes that are likely to have high lead levels (usually older homes which may have lead service lines or lead solder) must be tested after water has been sitting overnight. The EPA rule requires that 90% of these worst-case samples must have lead levels below the EPA Action Level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Although most homes have very low levels of lead in their drinking water, some homes may have lead levels above the Action Level of 15 ppb.
Lead is a common metal 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 affect an adult. It is important to wash children's hands and toys often, and to try to make sure they only put food in their mouths.
Lead in drinking water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning, can significantly increase a person's total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water. EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20% or more of a person's total exposure to lead.
Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants in that 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 your house to the water main (service lines). 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 after returning from work or school, can contain fairly high levels of lead.
The most recent sampling round of the BWSC system, homes tested below the EPA Lead Action of 15 ppb. There are steps you can take in your home to reduce your risk of exposure to lead. The BWSC has a program to continue the replacement of lead service connections in its system. The Lead Replacement Incentive Program was created to encourage Boston's homeowners to replace the private lead water service at their property. For more information download our Lead Replacement Incentive Program brochure.
To find out if you have a lead service line and how it can be replaced, please contact the BWSC's Lead Hotline at (617) 989-7888.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), MWRA and BWSC are concerned about lead in your drinking water. Although most homes have very low levels of lead in their drinking water, some homes in the City of Boston may have lead levels above the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) (or 0.015 milligrams of lead per liter of water (mg/L)). Under Federal law the BWSC and MWRA are required to have a program in place to minimize lead in your drinking water. This program includes:
If you have any questions, please call the BWSC (please call 617-989-7888). Below are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself by reducing your exposure to lead in drinking water.
The MWRA is taking steps to stop lead from getting into your tap water. In 1996, the MWRA began to treat water to make it less likely that lead could enter tap water from household pipes. Efforts to control water corrosivity include the addition of sodium carbonate and carbon dioxide to adjust the water's pH and alkalinity levels. Despite these efforts, lead levels in some homes or buildings can be high. Since internal plumbing varies from home to home, consumers are advised to continue taking precautions to prevent exposure to lead from drinking water.
Find out whether you need to take action in your own home, have your drinking water tested to determine if it contains excessive concentrations of lead. Testing the water is essential because you cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water.
Visit the MWRA for a list of state certified laboratories that can test your drinking water for lead or call the BWSC Lead Hotline at (617) 989-7888.