Lead, copper and drinking water

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OWASA’s drinking water meets all Federal and State regulations, including those regarding levels of lead and copper in our drinking water.  OWASA has always been in full compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s)  Lead and Copper Rule.

How does lead get into drinking water?

Lead is not typically found in sources of drinking water supplies such as lakes.  Lead has never been detected in the treated drinking water leaving the Jones Ferry Water Treatment Plant.

Lead can enter drinking water from corrosion of plumbing materials that contain lead.

  • Lead pipes and service lines: In cities with older water systems, lead may be present in public water mains because lead was used many years ago as a pipe material. However, the OWASA water system has no known lead pipes.  Some water systems may contain lead goosenecks, a small section of pipe used to connect the water main to the service line. OWASA removed all known lead goosenecks from our water system in the 1990s.
  • Lead solder: Solder is used to connect pipes in household plumbing. In 1986, lead solder was banned from use in household plumbing. Copper plumbing installed prior to 1986 may contain lead solder.
  • Fittings and fixtures: Home plumbing fittings and fixtures can contain lead.  Effective January 2014, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act lowered the allowable lead content of fittings and fixtures sold in the US from 8% to 0.25%.

The EPA has additional information on sources of lead in drinking water.

What does OWASA do to minimize corrosion and the release of lead?

In the 1990s, we removed all known lead pipes from our water system. There were some small lead pipes, called goosenecks, used to connect our large water mains to service lines. 

We have an effective corrosion control program which includes properly monitoring and managing the drinking water chemistry and adding a phosphate compound. The phosphate forms a protective coating inside pipes and fixtures to control corrosion in our public water system and in private plumbing.

To ensure optimized corrosion control, we monitor corrosion control parameters in treated drinking water as it leaves the Water Treatment Plant and within our water system.

What does OWASA do to check for lead in drinking water?

Federal and State testing requirements require public water systems such as OWASA to test for lead in drinking water collected from customers’ homes as part of the Lead and Copper Rule.  Samples must be collected from homes that meet criteria set by the EPA; these criteria identify “high priority” homes that are most likely to have elevated lead levels.  The number of homes and frequency of testing is determined by population size and compliance history.

OWASA performed annual sampling from 1992 through 1995.  Because of our history of compliance, OWASA was granted approval for reduced monitoring status.  We test for lead in drinking water in 30 homes built from 1983 to 1985 that have copper pipes with lead solder every three years.  In the past four rounds of monitoring, we have had only one sample with a measurable level of lead and the result was below the regulatory limit.  We have never discarded or invalidated a sample result.  The next round of testing will occur in 2017.  Test results are reported in our annual Water Quality Report Card.

We provide testing of our drinking water for lead at no charge when requested by a customer.  Analysis is performed by an independent contract laboratory.  Test results are reported in our annual Water Quality Report Card.  To request a lead and copper test kit please contact our Laboratory Staff at 919-537-4228 or WTPLaboratory@owasa.org.

How are lead and copper samples collected?

Lead and copper samples are collected by residents from taps or faucets that are used regularly.  However, there must be a period of 6 to 12 hours during which the tap at which the sample will be taken and any adjacent or nearby taps are not used.  No pre-flushing should be performed.

Samples should be collected from cold-water taps that are not fitted with any water treatment device such as a filter or water softener.  If there is a filter or water softener, put it in bypass mode.

The aerator should not be removed prior to sampling.

Samples are collected as first draw, meaning no water should be run prior to sample collection.  Place the opened sample bottle below the faucet and then open the cold water tap. Fill the sample bottle completely and turn off the water.

OWASA uses wide-mouth bottles for lead and copper sampling.

What can you do to reduce lead exposure?

If you have old water pipes or suspect that your plumbing system may release lead into OWASA water, we recommend the following:

  • Please contact OWASA about having your drinking water tested for lead.
  • Do not use the hot water for drinking and cooking. Hot water is more likely than cold water to have lead.
  • Do not use hot water to make formula for infants, cereal, or a beverage.
  • Boiling water does not remove lead.
  • When you haven’t used a faucet for 6 or more hours, flush the stagnant water out of your plumbing pipes by running the water for 3 to 5 minutes or until it is cold as it will get. (Conservation tip: This water can be used to water plants.)
  • Remove and clean faucet aerators. Over time, lead particles and sediment can collect in the aerator screen located at the tip of your faucet.
  • Drain your water heater annually. Over time, metals, sediment and bacteria can build up in your hot water heater. 

The EPA provides additional measures to reduce lead in home drinking water.

While OWASA has removed all known lead pipes in our system in the 1990s and our staff have not found any lead service lines over many years of work, you may wish to check the composition of your service line.  (Note: service lines are the pipes that connect customers’ homes and businesses to OWASA’s water mains and the portion between the meter and the home or business is owned by the property owner.)

  • Lead pipes are dull gray and very soft.  They are easily identified by carefully scratching the surface with a key or other dull metal object, do not use a knife or other sharp object.  If the pipe is lead the scratched surface will be shiny like a new nickel.
  • Galvanized pipes are also dull gray, but the surface remains dull when scratched.  Also, strong magnets will stick to galvanized pipe.
  • Copper pipes will look like a new penny when scratched.
  • Plastic pipes are also used for service lines in our area.  They are commonly black or white.

For general information on lead: