Lead in Household Plumbing
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is DEP providing a public information campaign about lead?
We want New York City residents to be aware of the potential for exposure to lead in drinking water, and to make sure that residents know how to minimize that risk. Lead is not coming from New York City’s reservoirs or the distribution system. Sometimes elevated lead levels are found in water samples from individual households as a result of corrosion of lead-containing plumbing. The City monitors a selection of homes that have lead service lines (homes built before 1961 may have lead service lines), or internal fixtures and plumbing that contain lead, or that have internal plumbing joined by lead solder (plumbing installed before 1987 may contain lead solder).
The EPA Action Level for lead in drinking water is 15 parts per billion (ppb). While DEP’s current monitoring results for lead meet the regulations and are below the 15 ppb Action Level in than 10% of the homes tested, we feel it is important to provide information on how to further reduce any potential exposure.
What is the City doing about high lead levels in household tap water?
We have an ongoing program to reduce the amount of lead that dissolves into tap water, especially in homes with lead service lines or lead soldering in pipes. We carefully and continuously monitor and adjust pH levels of the water to a specific range to reduce the corrosiveness of the water. We also adds phosphoric acid—a common food preservative—to create a protective film on pipes that reduces the release of metals, such as lead, from household plumbing. Since these treatments were started, the levels of lead in tap water have been gone down.
How does lead get into tap water?
Lead can get into the water when it is in contact with lead service lines/pipes, lead solder, faucets, fittings, and valves. The most common cause for the presence of lead is corrosion, a reaction between the water and the lead pipes or solder. This is a greater concern when the water has not been used for several hours. To reduce corrosion, DEP applies treatment to the water. We are confident that the treatment reduces lead levels at the tap, but we cannot be sure that treatment alone will always lower the lead levels in all buildings throughout NYC if lead pipes or solder are present.
Is lead still used in plumbing?
Lead service lines have not been installed in New York City since 1961, and the use of lead solder in plumbing systems was banned in 1987.
What can I do to reduce the potential for exposure to lead from tap water?
Run your faucet for at least 30 seconds, until the water gets noticeably colder, before using for drinking, cooking or making baby formula. Always use cold water for cooking, drinking, and making baby formula and baby cereal. Never use hot tap water for consumption because lead dissolves more easily in hot water.
Does boiling water remove lead?
No. Boiling water does not remove lead. Boiling water can actually concentrate lead levels so always use cold water for drinking and cooking, including for making baby formula or cereal.
Will my filter remove lead?
Some faucet and pitcher filters can remove lead from tap water. If you use a filter, be sure to get one that is tested and certified by an independent third party to remove lead in accordance with the standards developed by the National Sanitation Foundation, also known as NSF International. Be sure to maintain and replace any filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to protect water quality. Remember, home treatment devices require periodic maintenance and replacement and can only filter the water that flows from the faucet(s) to which they are connected. Read the filter’s package to be sure the treatment device is approved to reduce lead, or contact NSF International at 800-NSF-8010 or www.nsf.org for information on performance standards for home treatment devices.
Will running the tap increase my water bill?
Running tap water is a simple and inexpensive way you can take to protect your family's health. Running the water usually uses less than one or two gallons of water and costs approximately $1 per month. To help reduce these costs, you can also fill a couple of bottles for drinking water after running the tap the first time. Another way to conserve water is to use the first run of water for plants, household cleaning or for other purposes that do not involve cooking and drinking.
Can I get my water tested for lead?
Yes. In the event that someone is still concerned after following all of these safety precautions, DEP offers a free lead testing kit. Call 311 or fill out an online form to request a self-guided lead testing kit that will be mailed to your home.
My neighbors got their water tested and found lead. Is my water safe/are my test results accurate?
Each home should be tested separately for lead. Lead usually gets into tap water through contact with plumbing materials such as lead pipes or lead solder, or faucets, valves, and fixtures made of brass (brass contains some lead). Since each home has different plumbing pipes and materials, test results are likely to be different for each home.
Is there anything else I can do about lead in water?
Individual property owners have the option to replace pipes and fixtures containing lead with lead-free pipes and fixtures. In addition, sometimes lead and sediment can build up on the individual screens at your faucets. To clean them, take off the faucet strainers from all taps, remove all debris from the strainer screen and run the water for 3 to 5 minutes. After that, periodically remove the strainers and run the water to flush out any debris that has accumulated.
If a product is labeled lead free, does that mean it is safe?
Even new faucets, fittings, and valves, including those advertised as “lead-free,” may contribute lead to drinking water. Under Bill S. 3874 that took effect in January 2014, “lead-free” plumbing components can still have up to 0.25% lead in the surface touching the water. Prior to 2014, “lead-free” fixtures could have up to 8% lead. If the fixtures in your home are from before 1998, they may have an even higher lead content. Consumers should be aware of this when choosing fixtures and take appropriate precautions.
What is lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning is a preventable health problem. Lead poisoning can lead to learning and behavior problems in children. Young children are most at risk. Peeling lead paint (and the dust it turns into) is the most common cause of lead poisoning, not lead in water. New York City banned the use of lead paint in homes in 1960, but many older buildings still have lead paint on their walls, windows, doors, and other surfaces. When young children play on the floor or by windows and put their hands and toys in their mouths, they can swallow lead dust. Children can also be exposed to lead in imported consumer products like jewelry, toys, herbal medicine, clay pots and dishes, cosmetics, and food and spices. Reducing exposure to lead from all sources is the best way to protect children from lead poisoning. For more information on lead poisoning, visit nyc.gov/health.
Who may be at risk for lead poisoning?
Lead in drinking water can be harmful, especially to young children and pregnant woman. NYC’s water is healthy and safe to drink. It has no lead when it is delivered from our upstate reservoir system, but the possible presence of lead in your interior household plumbing may pose a risk. Not every home will have the same risk because each building’s plumbing may be different in material and age.
How can I protect my child from lead poisoning?
- Ask your landlord to fix peeling paint. If your landlord doesn’t fix it, call 311 or report it online.
- Keep children away from peeling paint and home repairs.
- Wash floors, windowsills, hands and toys often.
- Do not use items that may contain lead, such as imported pottery, cosmetics and herbal remedies.
- Use cold tap water for making baby formula, drinking and cooking. Before using, always let the water run at least 30 seconds, or until the water is noticeably colder.
- A blood test is the only way to find out if you have lead poisoning.
- Have your child’s blood tested for lead at ages 1 and 2.
- Ask your doctor about testing older children if you think they may have been exposed to lead.
- Pregnant women should be assessed for lead exposure at their first doctor’s visit.
Call 311 for more information about lead poisoning and about getting your child tested.
Where can I get more information on lead in drinking water?
Call the DEP Lead Unit at 718-595-5364, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit nyc.gov/dep/leadindrinkingwater. You can also visit epa.gov/lead or call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.