Assessing Your Exposure to Lead
Homes built before 1930 are more likely to have lead plumbing systems. Lead pipes are a dull grey color and scratch easily revealing a shiny surface. Lead solder used to join copper pipes is a silver or grey color. If your house was built before January 1986, you are more likely to have lead-soldered joints.
Every home is different and it is important that you do not rely on your neighbors for information, as their home could be different. There are procedures that customers can use to make the determination themselves or they can hire a licensed plumber.
Lead levels in drinking water are more likely to be higher if:
- your home or water system has lead pipes or has a lead service line
- your home has copper pipes with lead solder
- your home was built before 1986
- you have soft or acidic water
- water sits in the pipes for several hours
Reducing Your Potential Exposure
You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling water will not remove lead. Here are steps you can take to reduce your potential exposure if lead exists in your home plumbing.
- Flush your taps. The longer the water lies dormant in your home’s plumbing, the more lead it might contain. If the water in your faucet has gone unused for more than 6 hours, flush the tap with cold water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before drinking or using it to cook. To conserve water, catch the running water and use it to water your plants.
- Use cold water for drinking and cooking. Hot water has the potential to contain more lead than cold water. If hot water is needed for cooking, heat cold water on the stove or in the microwave.
- Routinely remove and clean all faucet aerators.
- Check to see if your interior plumbing or faucets contain lead and replace any that do. Look for the “Lead Free” label when replacing or installing plumbing fixtures.
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions for replacing water filters in household appliances, such as refrigerators and ice makers, as well as home water treatment units and pitchers. Look for NSF 53 certified filters.
- Flush after plumbing changes. Changes to your service line, meter, or interior plumbing may result in sediment, possibly containing lead, in your water supply. Remove the strainers from each faucet and run the water for 3 to 5 minutes.
Home Treatment for Lead
The need for a home treatment device or filter is a customer-specific decision. As described above, we take steps to reduce the potential for lead to leach from your pipes into the water. Please note that certain home treatment devices, such as water softeners for example, might increase lead levels in your water. Always consult the device manufacturer for information on potential impacts to your drinking water or household plumbing.
Before purchasing a home water treatment device, consider local water quality, cost and maintenance, product performance and certifications to make sure the unit will meet your needs. Home treatment devices require regular service. When homeowners do not maintain the unit as recommended by the manufacturer, it reduces the effectiveness and possibly results in lower quality water.
For more information regarding home treatment, customers may choose to visit the NSF website.
Getting Your Water Tested for Lead
Lead and/or copper levels in some homes and businesses might be detected due to customer use of lead pipes, lead solder and molded metal faucets in household plumbing. American Water does not provide testing for lead for individual customers who request it. Customers can choose to have their water tested at their cost at a certified laboratory.
For more information, contact EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or visit the Maryland Department of the Environment website.