The Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) is taking steps to stop lead from getting into your tap water. The MWRA treats 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.
To monitor lead levels, MWRA and BWSC test tap water in homes in the City of Boston. Under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, homes that are likely to have high lead levels, usually older homes which may have lead service lines or lead solder, are tested only after water has been sitting unused in the pipes for a minimum of 6 hours. 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.
There are steps you can take in your home to reduce your risk of exposure to lead. 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 Lead Hotline at 617-989-7888.
Ways to Reduce Lead Exposure
Flush Your System
Flushing tap water is a simple and inexpensive measure you can take to protect your family's health. Flushing usually uses less than one or two gallons of water and costs less than 50 cents per month. To flush, let the water run from the tap before using it for drinking or cooking any time the water in a faucet has gone unused for more than six hours. The longer water resides in your home's plumbing, the more lead it may contain. Flushing the tap means running the cold water faucet until the water gets noticeably colder, usually about 15 - 30 seconds. If your house has a lead service line to the water main, you may have to flush the water for a longer time, perhaps one minute, before drinking. Although toilet flushing or showering flushes water through a portion of your home's plumbing system, you still need to flush the water in each faucet before using it for drinking or cooking.
To conserve water, fill a couple of bottles for drinking water after flushing the tap, and whenever possible use the first flush water to wash dishes or water plants.
If you live in a high-rise building, letting the water flow before using it may not lessen your risk from lead. This is because high-rise plumbing systems have more, and sometimes larger pipes than smaller buildings. Ask your landlord for help in locating the source of the lead and for advice on reducing the lead level.
Use Only Cold Water for Cooking, Drinking and Preparing Baby Formula
Do not to cook with, drink, or prepare baby formula using water from the hot water tap. Hot water can dissolve more lead more quickly than cold water. If you need hot water, draw water from the cold tap and heat it on the stove. Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
Test Your Home for Lead
The only way to determine the level of lead in your tap water is to have it tested for lead by a state certified laboratory. The cost to test the water is usually between $15 and $50. Visit the MWRA's website to obtain a list of laboratories certified by DEP to test drinking water for lead.
Test Your Child for Lead
Contact your child's pediatrician or your local health department to find out how you can get your child tested for lead. A blood lead level is the only way to know if your child is being exposed to lead. For more information contact the Department of Public Health at 617-532-9571.
Determine Whether Your Water Service is Made of Lead
Determine whether the service line that connects your home or apartment to the water main is made of lead. If the service line is made of lead have it replaced.
EPA indicates that the best way to determine if your service line is made of lead is by either hiring a licensed plumber to inspect the line or by contacting the plumbing contractor who installed the line. A licensed plumber can at the same time check to see if your home's plumbing contains lead solder, lead pipes, or pipe fittings that contain lead. You may be able to identify the plumbing contractor who installed the original plumbing by checking the city's records of building permits.
BWSC maintains records of the materials located in the distribution system and can provide information about your service line. A visual inspection by BWSC may be necessary to determine the composition of the service line. Contact BWSC's Lead Hotline at 617-989-7888 for more information.
If the service line is made of lead you are encouraged to utilize BWSC's Lead Replacement Incentive Program to have it replaced and protect the health of the building occupants.
Remove Loose Solder and Debris from Plumbing Materials
Remove loose solder and debris from the plumbing materials installed in newly constructed homes or homes in which the plumbing has recently been replaced. To do this, remove the faucet strainers from all taps and run the water from 3 – 5 minutes. Thereafter, periodically remove the strainers and flush out any debris that has accumulated over time.
Identify and Replace Lead Solder
The use of lead solder in the joining of copper pipes was banned in the U.S. in 1986. If your copper pipes are joined with lead solder, have a plumber replace it with lead-free solder. Lead solder looks dull gray, and when scratched with a key looks shiny.
Have an Electrician Check Your Wiring
If grounding wires from the electrical system are attached to your pipes, corrosion may be greater. Check with a licensed electrician or your local electrical code to determine if your wiring can be grounded elsewhere. DO NOT attempt to change the wiring yourself because improper grounding can cause electrical shock and fire hazards.
Purchase or Lease a Home Treatment Device or Filter
Home treatment devices are limited in that each unit treats only the water that flows from the faucet to which it is connected, and all of the devices require periodic maintenance and replacement. Devices such as reverse osmosis systems or distillers can effectively remove lead from your drinking water. Some activated carbon filters, such as those found in filtering water pitchers, may reduce lead levels in the water they treat. However, all lead reduction claims should be investigated. Be sure to check the actual performance of a specific treatment device before and after installing the unit. A good resource is the National Sanitation Foundation: 1-877-867-3435 or www.nsf.org.
Purchase Bottled Water for Drinking and Cooking
If the water at the tap has elevated levels of lead after flushing, bottled water is an option, but it may cost as much as 1,000 times more than water from your faucet.