Lead and Copper in your Drinking Water


The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Reading Water Department are concerned about lead and copper in your drinking water. Although most homes have very low levels of lead and copper in their drinking water, some homes in the community have levels above USEPA action levels. The USEPA action level for lead is 15 parts per billion (ppb), or 0.015 milligrams of lead per liter of water (mg/L), and the USEPA action level for copper is 1.3 parts per million (ppm), or 1.3 milligrams of copper per liter of water.

Under Federal law the Water Dept. is required to have a program in place to minimize lead and copper in your drinking water by January 1997. This program includes corrosion control treatment, source treatment and public education. The Water Dept. is also required to replace each lead service line we control if the line contributes to lead concentrations of 15 ppb or more after the comprehensive treatment program has been completed.

For more information about how we are carrying out the requirements of the lead and copper regulation, please click here to access the MWRA page or give us a call at (781) 942-9199.

Health Effects of Lead

Lead is a common, natural and often useful metal found throughout the environment in lead based paint, air, soil, household dust, food, certain types of pottery, porcelain and pewter, and water. Lead can pose a significant risk to your health if too much of it enters your body. Lead builds up in the body over many years and can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys. The greatest risk is to young children and pregnant women. Amounts of lead that won't hurt adults can slow down normal mental and physical development of growing bodies. A child at play often comes into contact with sources of lead contamination - like dirt and dust - that rarely effects an adult. It is important to wash children's hands and toys often and try to make sure they only put food in their mouths.

Health Effects of Copper

Copper, a reddish-brown metal, is often used as a material in the plumbing of residential and commercial buildings. Copper is an essential nutrient, but at high doses, it has been shown to cause stomach and intestinal distress, liver and kidney damage, and anemia. People with Wilson's Disease may be at higher risk than the general public of adverse health effects due to copper.

Lead and Copper in Drinking Water

Lead in drinking water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning, can significantly increase a person's total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water. The EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person's total exposure to lead. Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants, in that it seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes.

Lead and copper enter drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away of materials containing lead and copper in the water distribution system and house-hold plumbing. These materials include lead based solder used to join copper pipe, brass and chrome-plated brass faucets, copper pipes and, in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect your house to the water main (service lines). In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2 percent lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0 percent.

When water stands in lead or copper pipes or plumbing systems containing lead and copper for several hours or more, the lead and copper may dissolve into your drinking water. This means the first water drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon after returning from work or school, can contain fairly high levels of lead or copper.

Steps You Can Take to Reduce Exposure to Lead & Cooper in Drinking Water

Despite our best efforts mentioned earlier to control water corrosivity and remove lead from the water supply, lead and copper levels in some homes or buildings can be high. To find out whether you need to take action in your own home, have your drinking water tested to determine if it contains excessive concentrations of lead and copper. Testing the water is essential because you cannot see, taste, or smell lead or copper in drinking water.

For more information on having your water tested please click here for a complete list of DEP certified laboratories or give us a call at (781) 942-9199.

If a water test indicates that the drinking water drawn from a tap in your home contains lead above 15 ppb or copper above 1.3 ppm, then you should take the following precautions:

1. Flush Your System

Let the water run from the tap before using it for drinking or cooking any time the water in the faucet has gone unused for more than six hours. The longer water resides in your home's plumbing the more lead or copper it may contain. Flushing the tap means running the cold water faucet until the water is noticeably colder, usually about 15-30 seconds. Although toilet flushing or showering flush water through a portion of your home's plumbing system, you still need to flush the water in each faucet before using it for drinking or cooking. Flushing the water is a simple and inexpensive measure you can take to protect your family's health. It usually uses less than one or two gallons of water and costs less than five cents per month. To conserve water fill a couple of bottles for drinking water after flushing the tap, and whenever possible use the fist flush water to wash the dishes or water the plants.

2. Use Only Cold Water for Cooking and Drinking

Try not to cook with, or drink water from the hot tap. Hot water dissolves lead and copper more quickly than cold water. If you need hot water, draw water from the cold tap and heat it on the stove.

3. Remove Loose Lead Solder and Debris

Remove loose lead solder and debris from the plumbing materials installed in newly constructed homes, or homes in which the plumbing has recently been replaced by removing the faucet strainers (aerators) from all taps and running the water from 3 to 5 minutes. Thereafter periodically remove the strainer (aerators) and flush out any debris that has accumulated over time.

4. Identify and Replace Lead Materials with Lead-Free Ones

If your copper pipes are joined with lead solder that has been installed illegally since it was banned in 1986, notify the plumber who did the work and request that he or she replace the lead solder with lead-free solder. Lead solder looks dull gray, and when scratched with a key looks shiny. In addition, notify your State Department of Environmental Protection about the violation.

5. Determine Whether Your Service Is Made of Lead

The best way to determine if your service line is made of lead is by either hiring a licensed plumber to inspect the line or by contacting the plumbing contractor who installed the line. You can identify the plumbing contractor by checking the town's record of building permits which should be maintained in the files of the Plumbing Inspector at the Town Hall. A licensed plumber can at the same time check to see if your home's plumbing contains lead solder, lead pipes or pipe fittings that contain lead. The Water Department also maintains records of the materials located in the distribution system. If the service line that connects your dwelling to the water main contributes more than 15 ppb to drinking water, after comprehensive treatment program is in place, the Water Dept. is required to provide you with information on how to replace your portion of the line at your expense and take a follow-up tap water sample within 14 days of the replacement. Acceptable replacement alternatives include 1" copper pipe.

6. Have an Electrician Check Your Wiring

If grounding wires from the electrical system are attached to your pipes, corrosion may be greater. Check with a licensed electrician or your local electrical code to determine if your wiring can be grounded elsewhere. DO NOT attempt to change the wiring yourself because improper grounding can cause electrical shock.

Additional Steps:

The steps described above will reduce the lead and copper concentrations in your drinking water. However, if a water test indicates that the drinking water coming from your tap contains lead and copper concentrations in excess of the action levels after flushing, or after we have completed our actions to minimize lead levels, then you may want to take the following additional measures:

7. Purchase or Lease a Home Treatment Device

Home treatment devices are limited in that each unit treats only the water that flows from the faucet to which it is connected, and all of the devices requires periodic maintenance and replacement. Devices such as reverse osmosis systems or distillers can effectively remove lead and copper from your drinking water. Some activated carbon filters may reduce lead levels at the tap; however, all lead and copper reduction claims should be investigated. Be sure to check the actual performance of a specific home treatment device before and after installing the unit.

8. Purchase Bottled Water for Drinking or Cooking