Tip sheet to reduce lead

Lead in faucets, plumbing in homes, and solder connecting plumbing lines, as well as old lead lines can affect each home differently. In Lawrence, the water we provide to homes and businesses is essentially lead-free in the distribution system and prior to entering your individual household plumbing. If you are concerned about lead, we have some frequently asked questions and recommendations below to reduce lead in your drinking water. These steps range from simple actions such as flushing lines to more complex actions like replacement of service lines and household plumbing fixtures.

In Lawrence, we take water quality very seriously and proactively take measures to ensure your water is safe. Lawrence’s water treatment systems comply with the EPA’s Safe Water Drinking Act and we participate in a lead and copper sampling program. For many years, we’ve taken steps to enhance the water treatment process by adding a naturally-derived, food-grade phosphate to the process which inhibits corrosion and helps protect pipes and fixtures in homes and the distribution system. Additionally, in the 1980’s we replaced portions of the public service lines with lead-free systems. Our water quality technicians test water chemistry daily to ensure the water delivered to our residents is within all EPA-specified levels.

If you have questions about water quality, contact the Lawrence Utilities Department at (785) 832-7800 or visit our website. Lawrence Utilities distributes water to 30,000 homes and businesses through nearly 500 miles of pipes in the city.

If you are concerned about lead, contact the Lawrence Utilities Department at (785) 832-7800.

Why is lead a problem?

Although it has been used in numerous consumer products, lead is a toxic metal now known to be harmful to human health if inhaled or ingested. Important sources of lead exposure include: ambient air, soil or dust (both inside and outside the home), food (which can be contaminated by lead in the air or in food containers), and water (from the corrosion of plumbing). On average, it is estimated that lead in drinking water contributes between 10 and 20% of total lead exposure in young children. In the last few decades, federal controls on lead in gasoline have significantly reduced people’s exposure to lead.

The degree of harm depends upon the level of exposure (from all sources). Known effects of exposure to lead range from subtle biochemical changes at low levels of exposure, to severe neurological and toxic effects or even death at extremely high levels.

Does lead affect everyone equally?

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, no safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.

Young children, infants and fetuses appear to be particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a big effect on a small body. Also, growing children will more rapidly absorb any lead they consume. A child’s mental and physical development can be irreversibly stunted by over-exposure to lead. Infants, whose diets consist of formulas made with lead contaminated water, are at an even higher risk.

Where does lead in drinking water come from?

Lead in drinking water rarely comes from the water treatment plant or from public water mains. The source of lead in your home’s water is most likely service lines, pipes or solder in your home’s own plumbing.

The most common cause is corrosion, a reaction between the water and the lead pipes or solder. Dissolved oxygen, low pH (acidity) and low mineral content in water are common causes of corrosion.

What is a service line?

Service lines run from the public water main to the customer’s home. The City owns and maintains the portion of the service line from the main to the meter. The customer owns and  is responsible for the portion of the service line from the meter to the home and all of the fixtures within the home.

Why is there lead in my faucets or fixtures?

In 1986, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to allow faucets and other plumbing fixtures to contain up to 8% lead. Congress defined such fixtures as “lead-free” even though they could contain a small amount of lead. Any fixtures made after 2014 must contain less than 0.25% lead.

How do I know if I am at risk?

You should be particularly suspicious if your home has lead pipes (lead is a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key), or if your non-plastic plumbing is pre-2014.

How can I reduce my exposure?

  • Flush your pipes before drinking – Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, “flush” your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes as cold as it will get. (This could take as little as five to thirty seconds if there has been recent heavy water use such as showering or toilet flushing. Otherwise, it could take two minutes or longer.) The more time water has been sitting in your home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. Large buildings may take longer to flush the lines.
  • Only use cold water for consumption – Use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. The hot water tap is likely to contain higher levels of lead. Boiling water will not reduce the lead and may concentrate the lead further.

The two actions recommended above are very important to the health of your family. They will probably be effective in reducing lead levels because most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the local water supply.

What is the Lawrence Utilities Department doing about reducing lead in household water?

  • Lawrence Utilities had a program to replace the public portion of the service lines that contained lead in the late 1980’s and continued for about 10 years. Staff recently investigated, by digging and inspection, several areas where lead service lines might have been used, based on history of city pipe materials. None of the sites sampled had lead services.
  • Lawrence complies with the EPA Lead and Copper Rule. Lawrence water is treated with a corrosion inhibitor, specifically an orthophosphate/ polyphosphate blend at the Kaw water treatment plant and a hexametaphosphate solution at the Clinton water treatment plant, that provide a protective coating on the pipes and fixtures both in the city distribution system and in homes. This practice prevents leaching of metals including lead and copper into the drinking water.
  • Since 2014, Lawrence Utilities specifies and installs only lead-free fittings.
  • Lawrence Utilities monitors water chemistry daily to calculate a water corrosvity index for each treatment plant, and we periodically test water chemistry for corrosion throughout the distribution system. This ensures that the water quality is not changing over time regarding its corrosivity.
  • As part of the recent effort to design and optimize process improvements to both water plants, Utilities staff and Burns & McDonnell process experts did an extensive review of water quality and improvement opportunities.
  • Staff has prepared materials for the Lawrence H20 Program to help residents assess the risk of lead in their water pipes.

How do I tell what the contents of my tap water are?

Since you cannot see, taste, or smell lead dissolved in water, testing is the only sure way of telling whether or not there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water. If you are concerned that you might have lead in your water, you should have your water tested for lead. Testing costs between $50 and $100.

How do I have my water tested?

Water samples from the tap will have to be collected and sent to a qualified laboratory for analysis. The following laboratories will do testing for the public and should be contacted for specific information on testing procedures:

Johnson County Environmental Water Quality Laboratory

11811 South Sunset Drive, Suite 1700

Olathe, KS 66061

Phone #: (913) 715-6950

Eurofins Eaton Analytical, Inc.

750 Royal Oaks Drive, Suite 100

Monrovia, CA 91016

Phone #: (626) 386-1100

What are the testing procedures?

Arrangements for sample collection will vary. In most cases, the lab will provide sample containers along with instructions as to how you should draw your own tap-water samples.

If you collect the samples yourself, make sure you follow the lab’s instructions exactly. Otherwise, the results might not be reliable.

Make sure that the laboratory is following EPA’s water sampling and analysis procedures. Be certain to take a “first draw” sample. (The first-draw sample taken after at least six hours of no water use from the tap tested represents the highest level of risk.)

How much lead is too much?

There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. If tests show that there is lead in your household water, it is advisable – especially if there are young children in the home – to reduce the lead level in your tap water as much as possible. The Utilities Department is interested in the results of any water tests. If you have your water tested, please share your certified lab report with us at utilities@lawrenceks.org or contact us at 785-832-7800.

If my water has high levels of lead, is it safe to bathe or shower in it?

Yes. Bathing and showering should be safe for you and your children, even if the water contains lead over EPAs action level. Human skin does not absorb lead from water.

What is the state and federal government doing to reduce lead in household water?

Measures taken during the last two decades have greatly reduced exposures to lead in tap water. These measures include actions taken under the requirements of the 1986 and 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (http://www.epa.gov/sdwa) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Lead and Copper Rule (http://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/lead-and-copper-rule).

The Lead and Copper Rule protects public health by requiring water systems to control corrosion. This has been determined to be the most effective way for water systems to minimize the lead that leaches from home owner’s plumbing fixtures and lead service lines.

Are there types of treatment devices that would work in my home such as filters?

There are many devices which are certified for effective lead reduction, but devices that are not designed to remove lead will not work.

Various types of water treatment devices are certified for household use. These devices can remove a broad range of contaminants from water – including lead – and minimize taste and odor issues. You should choose the type of filter that best fits your needs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant or nursing women and children under age six should use filtered tap water for drinking and cooking until all sources of lead in drinking water have been removed.

Certified Filters

  • Any type of water treatment device that you choose should meet National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) standards.
  • For lead removal, filters must be certified to meet NSF Standard 53. The filter package should specifically list the device as certified for removing the contaminant "lead."
  • View the NSF Contaminant Guide.

Types of Water Filters

  • Various types of water treatment technologies are available including filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet treatment and softeners.
  • Various styles of devices are available, including point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU).
  • If the homeowner chooses to use a filter, the Lawrence Utilities Department recommends point-of-use filters, such as faucet mounts and pitcher-style as a good choice, instead of the point-of-entry type of filters.
  • Visit the NSF Home Water Treatment Devices Guide for more information.

Water Filter Maintenance

  • It is important to routinely replace filter cartridges according to the manufacturer's instructions. Over time, a filter can accumulate metals and bacteria.
  • Water filters and cartridges can vary in their longevity (length of use) and replacement costs.

If residents have questions or concerns about Lawrence drinking water, they can contact the Lawrence Utilities Department at 785-832-7800 or view the Consumer Confidence Report at https://assets.lawrenceks.org/assets/utilities/Consumer_Confidence_Report_2016.pdf .

For additional information about lead in drinking water go to the “Center for Disease Control and Prevention” website at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm .

How did lead become a problem in Flint, MI?

Earlier this year, the national news reported on elevated lead levels in children living in Flint, Michigan that have been linked to lead contamination caused by the city’s water system. In 2014, Flint changed its water source. They began drawing water from the Flint River and treating it at their water treatment plant for use as drinking water. The treated water, it was later learned, was more corrosive than the water they had provided previously. This caused lead from consumer’s pipes and water fixtures to leach into their tap water.

It may be some time before all the facts surrounding the Flint incident are understood. The take away from this incident is water chemistry is complex. When Flint changed water sources and water treatment processes, there were unintended consequences and the quality and safety of their tap water was impacted. Lawrence Utilities monitors water chemistry daily to calculate a water corrosivity index for each treatment plant, and we periodically test water chemistry for corrosion throughout the distribution system. This ensures that the water quality is not changing over time regarding its corrosivity.

Crews have recently replaced or repaired the water main near me. Can that work affect my water quality?

Yes, water main replacement or repair can have an effect, as well as starting a new service or resuming water service after it has been shut off. It is not uncommon to experience cloudy or discolored water temporarily after one of these occurrences. If any of these have occurred recently, we recommend that you take the following steps:

  • Use the faucet closest to where the water initially enters your home.
  • Remove the aerator (screen) from the faucet.
  • Run the cold water for 3-5 minutes at a high flow rate from the faucet on the lowest level of the building. Avoid using hot water.
  • Make sure the first faucet is clear before moving on to the next faucet.
  • Move to the next faucet and repeat procedure until all faucets have been flushed (including the tub and shower).
  • Remember to flush all faucets, including refrigerator water dispensers, ice makers, and water heaters.
  • Clean the faucet aerators or replace those that are in poor condition. These are available at local hardware stores.