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Extension > Environment > Water Resources > Lead sources in drinking water

Lead sources in drinking water

Barb Liukkonen

The primary lead source in household water is the piping and plumbing that carries it to our homes.

Lead rarely occurs naturally in water. It may be released from lead-based pipes or solder by corrosive action. This particularly occurs in soft water. Throughout the early 1900s, lead piping was common in residential plumbing and in connections to public water supplies. Since the 1930s, copper pipe and, more recently, PVC pipe has been used.

However, lead-based solder was often used to join copper piping until it was banned in 1986. Older homes are more likely to have indoor lead plumbing or lead-based solder. In some neighborhoods, lead service lines connecting homes to water mains in the street are still common.

The only way to know for sure if your water contains lead is to have it tested. There are several certified, private laboratories that test water for a fee. You can look them up in the Yellow Pages under "Water Testing." When taking a water sample for testing, collect the first water that comes out of the tap. It represents the worse-case scenario. It will let you asses your exposure risk.

It's possible that the line connecting your house to the public water main adds lead to your drinking water. Find out whether it is a lead pipe. A licensed plumber can inspect this line for you. You can also check the construction records for your house. Your local water utility should be able to tell you where those records are located. A licensed plumber also can determine if lead-based solder was used in your house. Lead solder looks dull gray; when scratched with a key, it looks shiny.

One option to reduce your exposure to lead is to replace the lead piping and solder that's present in your home's water system. That can be expensive, and there are other ways without replacing pipe. For further information, access other INFO-U messages, or visit the Minnesota Department of Health website. MDH


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Reviewed by Barb Liukkonen 3/20/09

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