Lead has virtually no redeeming value, but if the current disaster in Flint, MI has an upside, it’s the renewed focus on removing lead from our homes. In most cases, old lead paint poses more danger than lead in the plumbing, but removing lead (properly) is never a bad idea.
Recent reports show that lead levels are elevated in the water at some Boston area schools. The water that comes into Boston homes and schools is tested repeatedly before it leaves the water treatment plant. Further, the City has removed lead pipes and components from its transport network, so the water itself and the water treatment are not sources of lead contamination.
Lead contamination in homes and schools comes from old plumbing solder that’s leaching lead into standing water in the pipes. Old brass plumbing fixtures may also contain lead, and can be a source of lead contamination.
Changes to federal laws in the mid-1970’s eliminated lead from plumbing solder and new plumbing fixtures, but these laws didn’t require lead abatement for existing lead lines, lead solder and lead-containing fixtures.
Lead abatement – the last step in removing lead from plumbing – involves identifying and replacing these components. One of the most surprising things about Flint is that the homes that had the highest levels of lead at the taps did not have lead water supply lines. Deteriorating plumbing fixtures and lead solder in the pipes in Flint homes, businesses and schools produced the highest recorded levels of lead contamination.
If there’s a lesson there, it’s this: do not assume that old pipe solder doesn’t contain enough lead to warrant action.
There is no safe, acceptable level of lead contamination. Lead exposure in any amount is hazardous to human health.
If you’re concerned about the presence of lead in your plumbing, you can purchase inexpensive test kits that allow you to collect a water sample and send it to a lab for analysis. Surface test kits can detect the presence of lead in pipe solder. Under-the-counter and tap filters are also effective in removing incidental lead contamination, but removing the sources of lead should always be your first preference.
If you have concerns about lead solder or lead-containing fixtures in your home, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We can help you determine the status of your home’s plumbing, and help you remove sources of lead contamination from your plumbing.
Photo Credit: 3M