Understanding Lead and Water

Water is lead-free when it leaves the treatment plant, but lead can be released when the water comes in contact with pipes and plumbing fixtures that contain lead. Lead sources and lead levels vary between buildings, so it is important to identify and remove any lead sources in each household.

Pregnant or nursing women and children under age six should use filtered tap water for drinking water and cooking until all lead sources are removed. Filters certified for lead removal are required to meet National Sanitary Foundation (NSF) Standard 53.

Minimizing lead exposure is the shared responsibility of DC Water and individual residents. DC Water strongly encourages residents to identify and remove any lead pipes or plumbing materials serving their home. To request information about your water service pipes, please contact Customer Service at (202) 354-3600. Residents may also request a lead test kit from the Drinking Water Division at 202-612-3440.

What you need to know
  • Lead is a heavy metal that can enter drinking water from the corrosion of pipes and plumbing materials.
  • Exposure to lead is a public health risk, especially for pregnant women and children under age six.
  • The concentration of lead in drinking water varies among homes in the District of Columbia.
Lead exposure and health
  • Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources.
  • Infants, young children and pregnant women have the greatest risk of lead exposure.
  • Lead can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body.
  • During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother's bones, which may affect brain development.
  • Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children.
  • Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead, more than healthy adults. Lead is stored in the bones, and it can be released later in life.
Sources of lead in drinking water
  • Lead service pipe
    In the U.S., lead service pipes were installed until the mid-1950s. Older properties may still have lead service pipes, which connect the water main in the street to household plumbing. The service pipe is owned by the property owner. Under certain conditions, DC Water is authorized to repair, maintain or renew the portion of the service pipe in public space. The maintenance of the portion of the service pipe on private property is the exclusive responsibility of the property owner. A "partial" lead service pipe replacement is where a portion of the service pipe is replaced, but a portion made of lead remains in public or private space.

    Lead service pipes were installed until the mid-1950s.
  • Lead solder
    This connects pipes in household plumbing. In 1987, lead solder was banned from use in household plumbing. If your house was built before 1987, your plumbing may have lead solder.
  • Brass faucets, valves or fittings
    Almost all faucets, valves and fittings have brass components. Until 2014, brass faucets and fittings sold in the U.S. and labeled "lead-free" could contain up to eight percent lead. Effective January 2014, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act specifies that these materials may not contain more than 0.25 percent lead.
  • Galvanized iron pipes
    Household galvanized pipes are old, corroded pipes that were installed in many homes before the 1960s. These pipes can release lead in water if the property has, or previously had, a lead service pipe. Galvanized pipes are made with a protective layer of zinc. However, the zinc layer erodes over time and results in corrosion. When lead is released from a lead service pipe and passes through galvanized plumbing (particularly over decades of use), lead can accumulate on the inside, corroded walls of this plumbing.

    Lead release from galvanized pipes can vary from home to home and can continue to occur even after a lead service pipe is replaced. Galvanized pipes can cause other water quality problems, such as low water pressure and discolored water. For additional information on household plumbing,  click here.
Who is responsible for addressing lead in water in the District of Columbia?
DC Water
  • Complies with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Lead and Copper Rule.
  • Conducts regulatory and voluntary lead testing and reports results to EPA Region III.
  • Conducts public outreach and education.
  • Participates in national research studies.
US Army Corps of Engineers Washington Aqueduct
  • Operates two drinking water treatment plants.
  • Applies corrosion control treatment to minimize pipe corrosion in the distribution system and customer households.
  • Monitors lead levels as water leaves the treatment plant and reports results to EPA Region III.
Public
  • Responsible for water service pipes and household plumbing.
  • Responsible for ensuring household water quality and minimizing lead exposure, including testing water for lead, flushing household plumbing, and if necessary, using a water filter.
District Department of the Environment (DDOE)
  • Enforces the District's lead laws to keep housing and child-care facilities safe.
  • Provides water lead testing in District public schools - click here for results.
  • Works with families of children whose blood tests show elevated levels of lead.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region III, Philadelphia, PA
  • Enforces compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule in the District of Columbia.
  • Provides technical assistance to Washington Aqueduct and DC Water.
  • Reviews treatment processes, monitoring plans and test results to verify compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule.
  • Issues violations for noncompliance and requires corrective actions to achieve compliance.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program develops and policies and strategies to prevent lead poisoning.
  • Educates the public and health care providers about childhood lead poisoning.
  • Provides funding to state and local health departments.
  • Supports research to measure effectiveness of prevention efforts at federal, state and local levels.

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