A groundbreaking study commissioned by the BWL recommends flushing times for lead water services beyond EPA guidelines. The study advises flushing lead water services seven minutes for water that has been idle in pipes six hours or more. For customers with standard copper water services, flushing time remains the same. Flush until the water runs cold or up to two minutes.
Lead Service Replacement Schedule & Progress
As of January 2016, the BWL has less than 650 known active lead service lines to replace. The BWL’s objective is to have these services replaced by June 30, 2017.
Lead is a common, naturally occurring metal that is found throughout the environment in lead-based paint, air, soil, household dust and occasionally water. Lead can pose a significant risk to your health if too much enters your body.
If present, elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. Lead in drinking water comes primarily from materials and components associated with service lines and home plumbing. The BWL is responsible for providing high-quality drinking water, but cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components. That's why the BWL uses a phosphate compound, which meets the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) standards for safety, to coat water pipes and prevent leaching of lead and copper into drinking water and which has shown past success in reducing lead levels. Constant exposure of water to lead in plumbing can cause lead to become dissolved in the water. This occurs when water sits in a pipe too long. If water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 7 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking. If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) or at http://water.epa.gov/drink/info/lead/index.cfm.
Lead in drinking water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning, can increase a person’s total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formula and concentrated juices that are mixed with water. The EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20% or more of a person’s total exposure to lead.
There is no detectable lead in BWL drinking water when it leaves our conditioning plants. However, since water is naturally corrosive small amounts of lead can dissolve into your drinking water, if your water sits for several hours in plumbing fixtures or service lines that contain lead. Lead levels in drinking water are likely to be highest:
Lead gets into drinking water when the water sits for extended periods of time in pipes or fixtures containing lead. This exposure could come from lead service lines. But it could also come from water contact with interior copper plumbing joined by lead solder, or with brass plumbing fixtures in your interior plumbing. Even brass fixtures certified as "lead-free" can contain up to 8 percent lead.
Reducing the water's corrosiveness is important to keeping lead out of drinking water. The BWL uses a phosphate compound to help protect its drinking water from lead exposure. This strategy has shown past success in reducing lead levels. The BWL also hired a nationally recognized consulting firm to review its corrosion control program and to recommend ways to lower corrosion even further. Sampling results, throughout the distribution system, confirm the treatment is achieving corrosion control
Despite the BWL's best efforts, lead levels in some homes and businesses served by the BWL can exceed the 15 parts per billion level. Fortunately, there are steps you can take on your own to reduce these levels.
Flush your pipes before drinking. Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for 6 hours or longer, flush your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes as cold as it will get. This could take as little as 5 to 30 seconds if there has been recent heavy water use such as showering or toilet flushing. Otherwise, it could take 2 minutes or longer. The more time water has been sitting in your home's pipes, the more lead it may contain.
Use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead.
Regularly clean particles from faucet aerators.
Buy a lead-free faucet. The legal definition of "lead-free" still allows brass faucets to contain up to 8 percent lead. However, faucets marked with "NSF 61/9" and/or "California Proposition 65" meet stricter limits.
If you're concerned about lead, have the water tested. Arrangements can be made for water testing through the Ingham County Health Department at 887-4312. A test costs about $20. Or, you may choose to install a water filter that is NSF-certified for lead removal. If a water filter is installed, replace filters at least as often as recommended by the manufacturer.
In addition, in homes with known or suspected lead service lines:
If the water in your home has not been used for 6 hours or more, draw water for cooking or drinking after allowing the water to run for 7 minutes or for at least 2 minutes after another high water use activity such as bathing or washing clothes.
As an alternative, use filtered water for drinking or cooking. The BWL offers free water filters and replacement cartridges to customers with lead service lines.
In 2004, the BWL’s Board of Commissioners approved a plan to remove the known or suspected remaining active lead service lines from it water system. Since 2004, the BWL has spent more than $42 million dollars removing more than 13,500 lead service lines, and these efforts will continue until all the remaining lead service lines are removed by June 30, 2017. Service line replacements are scheduled with the following priorities:
Schools and daycare centers - There are no schools with lead service lines in our water system. Lead service lines feeding registered daycare centers were replaced in 2004.
Children with elevated blood lead levels - Lead services supplying homes occupied by a lead-burdened child as identified by the Ingham County Health Department are put on the priority replacement list.
Sensitive populations - The EPA considers households with pregnant women and children under age 6 to be the most vulnerable to lead exposure. If your household fits that description, call our Customer Service Center at 702-6006 and we'll put you on our priority replacement list.
Infrastructure coordination - Where possible, our lead service line replacement program follows planned street, sewer and other infrastructure improvement projects. This decreases situations where the same street is opened up more than once for improvement projects.
Concentrated areas - Other areas with large concentrations of lead service lines.
The EPA sets upper limits or maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for most substances it regulates in a utility's drinking water system. These MCLs are set at levels designed to protect the health of customers. For most contaminants, testing takes place at the utility's treatment plant or in its distribution system. Lead is different, because it's not commonly found in a water utility's source water or its distribution system. Usually, lead dissolves into drinking water after the water has entered the customer's property. For lead, EPA has set an action level designed to measure a utility's effectiveness in controlling the corrosiveness of drinking water so that lead doesn't easily dissolve into it.
For lead, EPA requires that samples be taken from faucets inside the homes of a certain number of customers. These tests must be taken in homes likely to have the highest concentration of lead. That includes houses with lead service lines and houses with copper plumbing built just before lead-based solder was outlawed in the late 1980s. EPA's action level for lead is 15 parts per billion at the 90th percentile. That means 90 percent of the homes sampled for lead have to have a lead concentration of 15 parts per billion or less. Utilities that exceed the action level need to do more to reduce the corrosiveness of their drinking water, increase their public information campaign, and begin removing lead service lines, if they have any.
The BWL is doing all three of those things, even though the BWL remains under EPA's action level for lead.
The BWL is in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's lead regulation. All sampling rounds have shown 90th percentile below 15 ppb, which means out of every 10 homes sampled, 9 were at or below this level. But our commitment to our customers goes beyond simply doing what's required of us. This commitment has prompted the utility to:
Undertake a project to remove all lead service lines in our system.
Issue revised flushing advice for lead service line customers that go far beyond what's currently required by EPA.
Provide free water filters and replacement cartridges to customers with lead service lines.
Conduct more rigorous and frequent sampling for lead concentrations than is required by EPA regulations.
Communicate with our customers about lead in drinking water.
If you'd like to learn more about lead in drinking water, click here to visit the Environmental Protection Agency's website or call its Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.