How to Tell If Your Water Lines Are Lead

by | May 3, 2024 | Residential Infrastructure Day

Author: Rowan Guthrie

Water: The lifeblood of the human race. Where would we be without a steady supply of fresh, clean water? Somewhere we wouldn’t want to be, that’s for sure. That’s why ensuring the safety of our drinking water is a concern that touches the heart of every home. The stakes are particularly high regarding lead in our water supply.

What Are the Dangers of Lead Water Lines?

Lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health, even if your exposure to it is at a low level. It’s particularly dangerous for children, causing developmental issues, learning disabilities and lower IQ scores. In adults, lead exposure can lead to cardiovascular problems, decreased kidney function and reproductive issues. Lead water lines, which were commonly used until the late 20th century, can leach lead particles into the drinking water, posing a significant health risk. However, the risk is low if you or your children bathe or shower in water contaminated with lead because the skin doesn’t absorb water.

What Are Some Ways to Tell or Test If Your Water Lines Are Lead?

Fortunately, you don’t need to wonder if your water lines are lead and may be contaminating your drinking water. Let’s look at the measures you can take to detect the problem.

Visual Inspection

One of the simplest ways to determine if you have lead pipes is to inspect them visually. Lead pipes are generally a dull gray, often similar to how a cloudy sky looks just before it rains. Lead is also nonmagnetic, so if you place a magnet on the pipe and it sticks, it doesn’t contain lead (more likely, it’s iron or steel). You can also do a scratch test with a key or coin. If the pipe is lead, the area you scratched will shine, almost like silver.

Use of At-Home Test Kits

You can purchase at-home test kits online and from most hardware stores. These kits usually contain a substance that will change color to indicate the presence of lead when swabbed on the pipe. You can buy them for between $8 and $30 (CAD 11 and CAD 41).

Professional Testing

Consider hiring a professional plumber or contacting your local water authority for a definitive answer. They can conduct more thorough testing, often using spectrometry or other advanced techniques, to detect lead in your water lines. The costs for these tests vary wildly across the country, so it’s wise to contact several specialists to get the best price. For example, New York’s Department of Health states that costs can be anywhere between $15 and $50 (CAD 21 and CAD 68).

Understanding Service Lines

The service line is the pipe that connects your home to the main water line in the street. In 1986, the federal government banned the use of lead pipes in new plumbing systems, so if your home was built before the ban came into force, your service line may be made of lead. Many municipalities keep records of the materials used in service lines, so a call to your local water authority can provide you with an answer.

Tap Water Testing

Testing the water coming out of your tap is another method to check for lead. Many local health departments offer free or low-cost testing kits. It’s important to collect the water after it’s been sitting in the pipes for several hours, as this will give you a more accurate reading of lead levels.

Look for Signs of Corrosion

If your water has a high acidity or low mineral content, it can corrode your pipes, which can then release lead into your water. Be on the lookout for signs of corrosion, such as frequent leaks, restricted water flow or discolored water.

Research Local Water Reports

Your annual local water quality report, also known as a Consumer Confidence Report, can tell you about the lead levels in your municipal water system. This report is often available on your local government or water provider’s website.

Identifying lead water lines is a crucial step in ensuring the safety of your drinking water. By using these methods, you can take action to reduce your exposure to lead and protect your family’s health. When in doubt, consult with a professional for peace of mind and the well-being of your loved ones.

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