FAQs about Lead in Water from Pipes and Plumbing
We've compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions about lead in water from pipes and plumbing.
More information can be found in this video: Together, Let's Get the Lead Out
What is lead?
Lead is a common, naturally occurring metallic element that can be found in air, soil, and water. It is also a powerful toxin that is harmful to human health.
Lead was commonly used in gasoline and paint until the 1970s and is still found in products such as ceramics, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics. Lead was used for centuries in plumbing because of its pliability and resistance to leaks; in fact, lead’s chemical symbol, Pb, is derived from the Latin word for plumbing. In 1975, Canada banned the use of lead pipes in new construction however lead based solder and brass were used until 1986. There is no lead transmission or distribution lines in the municipality.
What are the health risks associated with lead?
As a toxic metal, at high doses lead can cause immediate health effects, including death. Prolonged exposure to lead has been linked to increase the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility. Someone who has been exposed to lead overtime may feel nauseous/sick, abdominal pain, constipated and forgetful, irritable or forgetful.
Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable if exposed to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. Low levels of exposure in children has been linked to central and peripheral nervous system damage, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells. While people are more commonly exposed to lead through paint, soil and dust it is estimated that infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
How do I know whether my drinking water contains lead?
As lead is colorless and tasteless, it is not readily apparent in water. In fact, the only way to know for certain whether your drinking water contains lead is to have your water tested by a certified laboratory. If you would like to be considered for our FREE Lead Testing Program please fill out the submission form by clicking below.
How does lead get into drinking water?
Lead is almost never present when water flows from the treatment facility, nor is it present in the water mains running beneath the streets. However, it may be present in some older homes in the pipe connecting the home to the water system – known as a service line - or in the home plumbing. The lead in these service pipes, the plumbing or the fixtures can dissolve, or particles can break off into water that comes out of your tap.
How much lead in water is too much?
Lead can be harmful even at very low levels and can accumulate in our bodies over time, so wherever possible steps should be taken to reduce or eliminate your household’s exposure. While risks vary based on individual circumstances and the amount of water consumed, no concentration of lead is considered “safe.” Households with pregnant women, infants, or young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead at low levels.
What can I do to reduce or eliminate lead from my drinking water?
The best way to remove risks of lead in water is to completely replace all sources of lead. You can take the following steps right away to reduce lead levels in your water.
1. Run the Tap Before Use – Lead levels are likely at their highest when water has been sitting in the pipe for several hours. Clear this water from your pipes by running the cold water for several minutes which allows you to draw fresh water from the main before consuming. You can use the cold water that you run off before consumption to water house plants or to flush toilets.
2. Clean Aerators – Aerators are small attachments at the tips of faucets which regulate the flow of water. They can accumulate small particles of lead in their screens. It’s a good idea to remove your aerators at least monthly and clean them out.
3. Use Cold Water for Cooking Drinking – Hot water dissolves lead quicker than cold so always cook and prepare baby formula with cold water to reduce the levels of lead.
4. Filter the Water – Many home water filters are effective at removing lead. When purchasing a filter be sure that it is certified for lead removal and that you maintain it properly.
Are there special steps I should take to protect my developing baby, infant or young children?
Households with pregnant women, infants or young children should be especially aware of the potential for lead exposure through drinking water.
If you suspect there may be lead in your home plumbing, consider having your water tested at a certified laboratory or if you are a water utility customer sign up for the voluntary free sampling here. If lead is detected, consider purchasing a filter certified for lead removal or using an alternate source of water until the problem is corrected.
Is it safe to shower in water that contains lead?
Because lead is not absorbed through the skin, bathing or showering in water containing lead is not considered a health risk.
What do the Water Utilities (Windsor/Three Mile Plains, Falmouth & Hantsport) do to protect my household from lead?
In order to prevent lead from dissolving into water from lead service lines or home plumbing, the West Hants Water Utilities adjust the water’s chemistry at the treatment plant. This process is known as corrosion control. We sample water at homes considered to be high risk in order to ensure our corrosion control remains effective. Although this reduces risks, the best way to assure your home is safe from lead exposure through water is to remove the potential sources of lead.
How do I know if my home has a lead service line or lead plumbing?
You can hire a certified plumber to inspect both your service line and other materials in contact with your drinking water. Here in West Hants lead service lines are mostly in homes constructed before 1975.
You may be able to determine on your own if your service line is made of lead. Service lines typically enter the home in the basement or crawl space. If the pipe is lead, it will have a dull finish that shines brightly when scratched with a key or coin. Using a magnet can also help you identify a lead pipe, because even a strong magnet will not cling to lead.
Who owns the lead service line?
In the West Hants Regional Municipality, the Water Utility is responsible from the water main to the water shut off (curb stop), generally but not always found on the customers property line. The rest of the line is owned by the property owner, with the acception of the water meter in your home.
Replacing the entire lead service line is a shared responsibility between our Utilities and each customer. Should a lead service line be detected between your curb stop and the main, the Utility will replace that portion of the service line immediately at no cost.
I’m in a new house. Am I at risk?
Very few homes constructed after 1975 have lead service lines, and those built after 1986 were required to use plumbing materials with substantially reduced lead content.
If you are concerned, consider having your water tested by a certified laboratory, or contact your Utility.
Do all home filters and other water treatment devices remove lead?
No. If you purchase a water filter or home treatment device, make sure it is independently certified for lead removal and that you maintain it properly. Find out more on filter certification here.
Can my pets drink water with lead?
Lead can impact animals the same way it does humans. Because domestic animals consume a relatively high volume of water relative to their body weight, pet owners with lead in their home plumbing may want to take precautions.
Is water the only source of lead in homes and businesses?
No. In fact, lead in drinking water generally represents only about 20% of total exposure. That being said, drinking water can account for more than half of lead exposure in children because of their lower body weight. Additionally, because no level of lead is considered safe, completely eliminating potential sources of lead is strongly advised.