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, can only 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.
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. 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 and Drinking
Try not to cook with, or drink 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.
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 is an illegal method of installment. If your copper pipes are joined with lead solder, notify the plumber who did the work, and request that the lead solder be replaced with lead-free solder. Lead solder looks dull gray, and when scratched with a key looks shiny. In addition, notify the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection about the violation.
Find Out Whether Your Service is Made of Lead
Determine whether or not the service line that connects your home or apartment to the water main is made of lead. 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. You can identify the plumbing contractor by checking the city's record of building permits which should be maintained in the files of your local water department. 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.
BWSC maintains records of the materials located in the distribution system and can provide information about your service line. If the service line that connects your dwelling to the water main contributes more than 15 ppb to drinking water, after MWRA's comprehensive treatment program is in place, your local water department (BWSC) is required to replace the portion of the line they own. If the line is only partially owned by your local water department (BWSC), they are required to provide the owner of the privately owned portion of the line with information on how to replace the privately owned portion of the service line, and offer to replace that portion of the line at the owner's expense.
If they replace only the portion of the line that they own, they also are required to notify you in advance and provide you with information on the steps you can take to minimize exposure to any temporary increase in lead levels that may result from the partial replacement; to take a follow-up sample at their expense from the line within 72 hours after the partial replacement; and to mail or otherwise provide you with the results of that sample within three business days of receiving the results. Acceptable replacement alternatives include copper, steel, iron, and plastic pipes.
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.
If lead levels persist, the steps described above will reduce the lead concentrations in your drinking water. However, if a water test indicates that the drinking water coming from your tap contains lead concentrations in excess of 15 ppb after flushing, or after we have completed our actions to minimize lead levels, then you may want to take additional measures.
Purchase or Lease a Home Treatment Device
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 may reduce lead levels at the tap. 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.