• Lead Service Advisory Information

    In December 2016, the BWL replaced its last active lead service line, joining Madison, Wisconsin as the only two water utilities in the nation that have removed all lead service lines. The project began in 2004 and removed 12,150 active lead service lines at a cost of $44.5 million.


    Things you should know about lead in drinking water

    Important information about lead

    Lead is a common, naturally occurring metal that is found throughout the environment in lead-based paint, air, soil, household dust and occasionally water. Lead can pose a significant risk to your health if too much enters your body.

    If present, elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. Lead in drinking water comes primarily from materials and components associated with service lines and home plumbing. The BWL is responsible for providing high-quality drinking water. The BWL has removed all known lead service lines but cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components. That's why the BWL uses a phosphate compound, which meets the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) standards for safety, to coat water pipes and prevent leaching of lead and copper into drinking water and which has shown past success in reducing lead levels. Constant exposure of water to lead in plumbing can cause lead to become dissolved in the water. This occurs when water sits in a pipe too long. If water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking. If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) or at http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/lead/index.cfm.

    Lead in drinking water

    Lead in drinking water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning, can increase a person’s total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formula and concentrated juices that are mixed with water. The EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20% or more of a person’s total exposure to lead.

    Removing all of our customer’s lead service lines reduces a person’s exposure risk.

    How lead enters our water

    There is no detectable lead in BWL drinking water when it leaves our conditioning plants. However, since water is naturally corrosive small amounts of lead can dissolve into your drinking water, if your water sits for several hours in plumbing fixtures or service lines that contain lead. Lead levels in drinking water are likely to be highest:

    • In homes with lead indoor plumbing.
    • In homes that have copper plumbing with lead solder.
    • In homes that have brass fixtures.

    Reducing water's corrosiveness

    Lead gets into drinking water when the water sits for extended periods of time in pipes or fixtures containing lead. The BWL no longer has any known lead service lined, but it could also come from water contact with interior copper plumbing joined by lead solder, or with brass plumbing fixtures in your interior plumbing. Even brass fixtures certified as "lead-free" can contain up to 8 percent lead.

    Reducing the water's corrosiveness is important to keeping lead out of drinking water. The BWL uses a phosphate compound to help protect its drinking water from lead exposure. This strategy has shown past success in reducing lead levels. The BWL also hired a nationally recognized consulting firm to review its corrosion control program and to recommend ways to lower corrosion even further. Sampling results, throughout the distribution system, confirm the treatment is achieving corrosion control.

    Things you can do to reduce lead in your drinking water

    Despite the BWL's best efforts, lead levels in some homes and businesses served by the BWL can exceed the 15 parts per billion level. Fortunately, there are steps you can take on your own to reduce these levels.

    • Flush your pipes before drinking. Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for 6 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 5 to 30 seconds if there has been recent heavy water use such as showering or toilet flushing. Otherwise, it could take 2 minutes or longer. The more time water has been sitting in your home's pipes, the more lead it may contain.

    • Use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead.

    • Regularly clean particles from faucet aerators.

    • Buy a new lead-free faucet. Until January 2014, the legal definition of "lead-free" still allowed brass faucets to contain up to 8 percent lead. However, faucets marked with "NSF 61/9" and/or "California Proposition 65" met stricter limits. As of January 4, 2014, the new national mandate requires that every pipe, fixture and fitting used for potable water use contain less than 0.25 percent of lead by weight.

    • If you're concerned about lead, have the water tested. Arrangements can be made for water testing through the Ingham County Health Department at 887-4312. A test costs about $20. Or, you may choose to install a water filter that is NSF-certified for lead removal. If a water filter is installed, replace filters at least as often as recommended by the manufacturer.


    EPA's lead regulation

    The EPA sets upper limits or maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for most substances it regulates in a utility's drinking water system. These MCLs are set at levels designed to protect the health of customers. For most contaminants, testing takes place at the utility's treatment plant or in its distribution system. Lead is different, because it's not commonly found in a water utility's source water or its distribution system. Usually, lead dissolves into drinking water after the water has entered the customer's property. For lead, EPA has set an action level designed to measure a utility's effectiveness in controlling the corrosiveness of drinking water so that lead doesn't easily dissolve into it.

    For lead, EPA requires that samples be taken from faucets inside the homes of a certain number of customers. These tests must be taken in homes likely to have the highest concentration of lead. That includes houses with lead service lines and houses with copper plumbing built just before lead-based solder was outlawed in the late 1980s. EPA's action level for lead is 15 parts per billion at the 90th percentile. That means 90 percent of the homes sampled for lead have to have a lead concentration of 15 parts per billion or less. Utilities that exceed the action level need to do more to reduce the corrosiveness of their drinking water.

    The BWL has always been in compliance and will continue monitoring every three years.

    The BWL is doing all three of those things, even though the BWL remains under EPA's action level for lead.

    Our commitment to our customers

    The BWL is in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's lead regulation. All sampling rounds have shown 90th percentile below 15 ppb, which means out of every 10 homes sampled, 9 were at or below this level. But our commitment to our customers goes beyond simply doing what's required of us. This commitment has prompted us to remove all known lead service lines as of December 2016.

    If you'd like to learn more about lead in drinking water, click here to visit the Environmental Protection Agency's website or call its Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

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