Lead Frequently Asked Questions

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 sometimes found in products such as ceramics, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics. When dissolved in water, it is colorless and tasteless.

Why is lead a health risk?

Lead is a toxic metal that can cause immediate health effects at high doses and long-term health effects if it builds up in the body over many years. Pregnant persons and young children are particularly vulnerable because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. While people are more commonly exposed to lead through paint, soil and dust, U.S. EPA estimates infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water if lead plumbing materials are present.

Related: Health Effects of Lead

Do I need to be worried about lead in my water?

It's possible for lead to get into water when the water sits in private plumbing that has lead or a disturbance causes lead-containing pipe scale from private galvanized pipes to be released. Lead can have negative health effects even at very low concentrations. The older your plumbing is, the more likely it is to contain lead. Lincoln Water System records show that solid lead pipes were often used in water service lines and plumbing systems prior to 1940. Drinking water plumbing materials manufactured in 2014 or after are now considered lead-free by today’s standards.

What kind of pipes do I have?

Common types of pipes found inside a home are copper, galvanized iron, and PEX or plastic. Some pipes in older homes may be made of lead. Lincoln Water System does not maintain records of household pipes connected after the water meter. We do have records for most service lines. A service line is the pipe that connects the water meter to the water main and is owned by the property owner. The most common service line material is copper, but these pipes can also be made from galvanized steel, lead, or plastic, or a combination of materials. An interactive map is available to look up the status of the service line on your property and determine if it is non-lead, lead, or lead-contaminated galvanized steel. You can also hire a plumber or use the magnet and penny test to help determine from what metal your pipes are made.

Related: Water Service Line Inventory Map

What is a service line and who owns it?

The pipe that connects the water meter to the water main is called a service line and it is owned by the property owner.

View Diagram of Typical Service Line

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 persons, infants, or young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead at low levels.

Lead Level in Drinking Water Source Description
0 ppb Maximum Contaminant Level Goad (MCLG) - USEPA The level of a contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health. MCLGs allow for a margin of safety. This goal considers only public health and not laboratory detection limits or water treatment technology limitations.
1 ppb American Academy of Pediatrics The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that water from drinking fountains in schools should not contain more than 1 ppb of lead.
5 ppb Bottled water standard - Food and Drug Administration Bottled water is required to contain no more than 5 ppb of lead.
15 ppb Action Level - USEPA The concentration of a contaminant which, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements which a water system must follow. Utilities must ensure that water from the customers’ taps does not exceed this level in at least 90 percent of the homes sampled or take corrective action.

What can I do to reduce lead in my drinking water?

The best way to remove risks of lead in water is to completely replace all plumbing that has lead. But there are also steps you can take right away to reduce lead levels in your water.

  • Run the tap before use to clear the water that has been sitting in the pipes
  • Use cold water for cooking, drinking, and preparing baby formula
  • Routinely clean faucet aerators
  • Filter the water using a filter that is NSF 53 certified

Learn More: How to Reduce Your Exposure

Are there special steps I should take to protect my developing baby, infant, or young children?

Households with pregnant persons, 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, follow these steps to reduce your family’s exposure and consider removing the sources of lead.

You may wish to have your water tested for lead. Babies and young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead at low levels. U.S. EPA estimates infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water if lead plumbing materials are present.

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.

Does boiling water remove lead?

No. Boiling water does not remove lead.

Do all home filters and other water treatment devices remove lead?

Not all filters are certified to remove lead. If you purchase a water filter or home treatment device, make sure it is certified to remove lead (NSF/ANSI Standard 53) and that you maintain it properly. Find out more on filter certification at nsf.org.

Related: NSF Certified Product Listings for Lead Reduction

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, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, 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, eliminating potential sources of lead is strongly advised.

Why was lead used in plumbing?

Lead was used for centuries in plumbing because of its flexibility and resistance to leaks. In fact, lead’s chemical symbol, Pb, is derived from the Latin word for plumbing.

In Lincoln, before 1950, short pieces of lead pipe, called goosenecks, were frequently used at the beginning of a service line pipe to connect it to the water main pipe. Since these two pipes were often at different heights, they were joined with lead goosenecks because lead pipe can bend easily. Lead goosenecks can also be connected to the water meter or in other places inside a building. Lincoln Water System records show that homes and business constructed prior to 1940 have a higher probability of containing lead pipes in the plumbing system.

Lead was used in faucets and fittings because adding lead made brass more malleable. The older your home’s plumbing is, the more likely it is to contain lead.

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