Are you in love with your older home and all it’s character and quirks, but developing a nagging concern in the back of your mind that you might be risking the health of your family with old lead pipes?
Before you start replacing your home’s plumbing, it’s important to understand the dangers and options available to you.
Lead Pipe Usage and Rules
Using lead pipes for plumbing was common for many decades, but their usage began to taper off after the 1950’s and declined ever further after the passage of the 1974 Safe Water Drinking Act. The 1986 amendments to this law required the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards limiting concentrations of lead in public water systems, as well as lead content in the pipes and fittings used. Currently, the EPA sets drinking water contaminants standards, with the allowable lead content being 15 ppb (parts per billion).
Lead Pipe Risks
You are probably aware that ingesting lead is bad for you and your loved ones. Lead poisoning has been linked to severe mental development disorders, organ failure, memory failure, nausea, fatigue problems, and many other health effects. The risk is especially great for children and women who are pregnant and their unborn child.
As the water either sits in the pipes or flows through it, lead seeps out of the pipe, fittings and solder, and into the water that we use to drink, cook, and make our coffee.
Do You Have Lead Pipes?
The first step in assuring your safety is to determine if you have lead pipes. Your initial investigation is relatively straightforward.
Many times the pipe is painted, but beneath any paint you will find that lead is a dark grey color and a soft, easily-erodable metal. If you suspect you have lead piping, you should contact a plumber to verify.
The piping system outside of your home may be lead as well. If the public water main and supply line to your home are both lead, any remedial efforts you take in your home may not be able to improve the quality of your water. It's best to call or visit your local water or utility department and find what records they may have on the existing system and its materials.
It’s impossible to pour yourself a glass of water and determine if you have a lead problem just by a visual inspection. If you’re concerned, contact a plumber in your area and find one that can test your water to determine lead concentrations.
If you have water with a lead level greater than that recommended by the EPA, or if you have determined you have lead piping and are concerned for your
Regardless of the lead concentration, you will need to replace your home’s plumbing with modern, code-approved piping materials. This is typically a very large and disruptive job and should be left to professionals, as it is not only the piping underneath cabinets and behind toilets that needs to be replaced, but those pipes behind walls, in crawl spaces, and elsewhere in the house as well.
The first step to determining if you are exposed to risk from lead piping is to figure out if you actually have lead pipes in your home. While you should be concerned about the potential health effects, the presence of lead pipes should spur you to get educated and investigate the quality of the water coming out of your tap. Merely having lead piping does not guarantee that a problem exists, but a through investigation and the correct your infrastructure should ease your mind of any pipe-related dangers.