Lead in Faucets and Service Pipes

Lead contamination from lead-based paint, dirt, and dust accounts for most of the exposure. Lead from drinking water can make up to 20 percent of a person’s total exposure to lead.

The Rhode Island Department of Public Health has information at http://health.ri.gov/water/about/lead/

The NSF certifies plumbing fixtures, water filters, and bottled water and can be reached at 1-800-NSF-MARK or through their website at www.nsf.org.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website on lead in drinking water: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drinking-water

Responding to recent regulations, faucet manufacturers have decreased or eliminated the lead in residential kitchen faucets, bathroom faucets, bar faucets, drinking fountains, and ice-makers. Starting January 4, 2014, all faucets will be produced with no more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead with respect to the wetted surface. The national standard for certifying plumbing fixtures “lead free” status is determined by the National Sanitary Foundation (NSF) – the standard is International Standard 61-Section 9. New faucets meeting the NSF 61 standard will have NSF 61/9 stamped on the new faucet’s cardboard box.

For more information on lead-free fixtures including catalogs and website directories, contact NSF at 1-800-NSF-MARK or www.nsf.org.

The most cost effective ways to minimize lead exposure from drinking water are:

  • Flush faucets used for drinking and cooking for several minutes until cold in the morning or after coming home from school/work to insure fresh water from the main in the street and flushing out any contaminates from the household plumbing
  • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking
  • Get your water tested if concerned. Be sure that only valves and filters intended for drinking water supply are used in any home plumbing project.

In extreme cases, older faucets can contribute up to one-third of the lead in water that has been sitting in the pipes for several hours, with the remainder coming from other plumbing such as pre-1988 lead solder joints in copper pipes or a lead service line.

The water supply is lead free and the pipes that carry the water to your street are made of cast iron, ductile iron or concrete, and do not add lead to the water. However, lead can get into tap water through a lead service line connecting your house to the pipe in the street, or pipes in the home, lead solder used in plumbing, and some brass fixtures. Corrosion or wearing away of lead based materials can add lead to tap water, especially if water sits for a long time in the pipes before use.

Few lead services were installed in the BCWA water system, and have since been removed. Even so, the BCWA is on a constant look-out for any lead on the homeowner’s side of the connection when we inspect or change meters. We are currently investigating galvanized iron services (about 190 in our system), that may have had a lead connector.

Even though our test levels for lead are very low or non-detectable, we will remove any lead found in the BCWA system. However, the homeowner owns a piece of the service line from the property line into the house. This pipe is the owner’s responsibility. Should the BCWA determine the service line is not copper or not in good condition upon inspection, the BCWA will recommend replacement.

Federal and State lead regulations do not cover hose bibs, bathtub fixtures, shower heads, and industrial faucets.

Most faucets purchased prior to 1997 were constructed of brass or chrome-plated brass, which contain up to 8 percent lead (the main metals in brass are copper and zinc). Water sitting for several hours or overnight in a brass faucet can leach lead from the brass faucet interior which may produce high lead levels in the first draw of drinking water. Later regulations mandated that most faucets purchased after 1997 contain less lead than previously used thereby reducing the possible leaching of lead. However, the most recent legislation, called “Get the Lead Out,” mandates that after January 4, 2014, all faucets purchased will contain no more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead in relation to wetted surface.

Some faucet manufactures produce plastic faucets that have virtually zero lead. Other manufactures are substituting other metals for the lead in the brass, inserting copper tubes inside the brass faucets, or applying special coatings on the inside of the faucets in order to minimize or eliminate lead leaching. With the recent legislation, more and more faucet manufacturers are advertising faucets that adhere to the new “lead-free” definition allowing a maximum of 0.25 percent lead.