According to the Environmental Defense Fund, over 6 million homes in America have lead service lines. This means the pipes used to run water into homes and businesses from the water main in the street are made of lead. This is important for several reasons; most notably the impact lead service lines can have on public health. We know lead exposure can cause serious illness for everyone, but vulnerable members of the population, such as children and expectant mothers, are even more at risk from the dangers of lead poisoning.
Lead poisoning can come from water that has been contaminated through a lead pipe, as lead can leach into the water in varying concentrations before coming out of taps. Cities and municipalities run water tests to ensure the water they provide is safe to drink, but that doesn’t mean they have accounted for your individual home or service lines, as this is considered the homeowner’s responsibility.
What is a Lead Water Service Line?
Service lines are the pipes responsible for bringing water directly into your home from the water main buried in the street. Until the mid 1980s, plumbing pipes and solder were commonly made of lead. If you live in an older home, it’s especially important to check your service lines for lead. And whether pipes themselves are made of lead, or simply soldered with lead, the risk of contaminating your drinking water is still present.
How Can I Tell if I Have Lead Service Lines?
The majority of residential water service lines are either copper, galvanized steel, or lead. In order to determine which yours is, you first need to identify your home’s water main. These are typically found either in the garage, basement, or outside near an exterior wall. If you’ve ever turned off the water to your house, this is the same fixture you’re looking for.
Once you’ve located your water main, you need to expose a portion of the pipe itself – many pipes, especially those outdoors, will have been corroded over time and some may even be covered in tape or other protective material.
You can tell a few things just by looking at the metal component of the pipe — If it’s colored like a penny then it’s most likely copper. If you can’t tell what kind of material the pipe is by looking, you’ll need to use a tool like the end of a flathead screwdriver or a coin to gently scratch the surface of the pipe. Shiny silver indicates either steel or lead and to tell the difference you’ll need a magnet.
If the magnet sticks to your pipe, it’s not lead — magnets will only stick to steel or copper pipes. If a magnet doesn’t stick to your pipe, and it can be easily scratched, there’s a pretty good chance it’s lead.
My House Has Lead Water Service Lines — What Now?
The first step if you determine you have lead water lines is to stop drinking and using the water immediately. Call a plumber to set up a consultation and consider installing a whole home water filter or a point-of-use water filter like our Aquasential Tankless RO Drinking Water Filter System that’s rated specifically for lead removal. Look for the NSF/ANSI Standard label or certification on any water filter you’re considering to be sure it can remove lead safely.
If you have any other questions about lead service lines in your neighborhood, or how Culligan can help, let us know, today!