Lead in Drinking Water

There’s been a lot of discussion about lead in tap water following the recent events in Flint, Michigan. As we learn more about what happened in Flint many people have started to wonder “could this happen here?”. Flint’s issues and circumstances are very different from the what we see here in the Portland metro area and at Clackamas River Water (CRW).

Aging infrastructures, including pipe and plumbing system components, are the main contributors of trace amounts of lead in the water supply today.  In Flint, corrosive water combined with old lead service lines caused the contamination of tap water in many homes. A service line is the pipe that connects a home to the nearby water main. Lead service lines were most common in the early part of the 20th century. Unless your home is very old (built before 1930), it’s unlikely that you have a lead service line. In this region, water providers rarely installed lead service lines in their distribution system.  There are no lead service lines in either of Clackamas River Water’s service districts.

In our region the main source of lead in drinking water is typically from household plumbing. At CRW, we’ve found the primary culprit is often lead solder that was used to join copper pipes.  In homes build before 1985, this was a common occurrence. Lead can also be found in brass plumbing fixtures and components. Certain water properties can cause lead to release from these plumbing components.

Lovely little girl drinking water, over whiteWe take lead corrosion control very seriously. Our primary corrosion control strategy is to ensure that the pH of our drinking water is well balanced before it enters the distribution system. To monitor the efficacy of our treatment we regularly test for lead in the tap water of 30 to 60 homes in our area that represent the worst-case scenario for potential lead corrosion. These homes are generally homes that were built between 1975 and 1985. In our most recent round of testing only of 1% of homes test exceeded the lead action level of 15 parts per billion established by the EPA. These important test homes let us watch over time to see how our water is affecting lead plumbing components. This allows us to make adjustments to our treatment that minimize the risk of lead exposure to all of our customers that may or may not know that their home contains lead plumbing components.

People are exposed to lead in many other ways. In the Portland metropolitan area, dust from paint in homes built before 1978 is the most common source of exposure to lead. Other sources include soil, pottery, traditional folk medicines or cosmetics, some sports equipment such as fishing weights and ammunition, and some occupations and hobbies.

If you are concerned about lead levels in your drinking water, give us a call at 503-722-9241. We’re happy to help answer any questions you may have. If you do have lead plumbing components, there are some simple things that you can do to reduce lead in your drinking water:

  • Run your water to flush out lead. If water hasn’t been used for several hours, run the water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before drinking or cooking.
  • Use cold, fresh water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not use water from the hot tap for cooking or drinking. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
  • DO NOT boil water to remove lead. Boiling water does not remove lead.
  • Consider using a filter. NSF International, the Water Quality Association, and CSA International all certify home treatment products for removal of contaminants. If you decide to use a home treatment device be sure to follow the manufacturer’s operation and maintenance instructions carefully in order to make sure the device functions properly.
  • Consider buying low-lead fixtures. As of January 1, 2014 all pipes, fittings, and fixtures are required to contain less than 0.25% lead. When buying new fixtures, consumers should seek out those with the lowest lead content. Visit NSF International to learn more about lead content in plumbing fixtures.
  • Regularly clean your faucet aerator. Particles containing lead from solder or household plumbing can become trapped in your faucet aerator. Regularly cleaning every few months will remove these particles and reduce your exposure to lead.



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