Lead Testing Results May Be Skewed

A new chapter in the ongoing debate about the safety of lead in plumbing finds Boston in the center of a controversy about the accuracy of lead testing results. At least 33 cities in 17 states are accused of gaming the results of lead tests on regular municipal water samples.

Lead testing not conducted according to guidelines

The cities in question, which include Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit use a questionable strategy for measuring the amount of lead taken from taps in their service areas. The problem is so disturbing that last week, a law firm filed a class-action lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia, alleging that the testing protocols in place in that city serve to obscure the number of sites that test positive for elevated lead levels, and that water department officials conspired to exclude high test results.

In a story published by The Guardian, the newspaper says that the cities in question routinely used lead test protocols that could produce more favorable results, and could underestimate the number of sites with elevated lead levels. Lead tests are required by the Environmental Protection Agency, and cities are required to test the water in a small sample of homes every three years.

The Guardian says that in many cases, the test results are run on water that has been collected by residents, and that residents are typically instructed to “pre-flush” the water line before collecting the water sample. To pre-flush a water line, the tester would simply open the tap and let the water run for a defined period of time prior to collecting the sample. Pre-flushing eliminates the lead that has leached into the water standing in the pipe.

In addition, officials also corrupt the results of the test by removing aerators and filters before the test samples are collected. In some cities, high-risk homes (and homes known or suspected to be contaminated with lead) were simply removed from the testing regimen.

For nearly a decade, the EPA has stated that pre-flushing violates the “intent” of the test and has cautioned municipal systems not to instruct collectors to pre-flush the water lines. For a decade, EPA officials have asked municipalities not to remove faucet-level aerators from the fixture before collecting the water sample. Boston has already said that it plans to change its testing methodologies to conform more closely to EPA guidelines for the city’s next set of EPA tests.

If you’re concerned about lead in your home’s plumbing system, the experts at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help. We can help you secure more accurate water samples for testing, and we can also perform abatement services to remove lead pipes, lead plumbing solder and old brass fixtures that may contain lead. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime to set up a consultation.

Photo Credit: Vlad Iorga, via

Leaking pipe replacement program replaces lead fears

If there were two words that strike fear into the hearts of parents, they would be “lead poisoning.” The fear of lead poisoning is of special concern for people who occupy housing built before 1978. Lead is dangerous because it’s toxic and the body stores it, much in the same way it stores calcium. While most exposures to lead come from painted surfaces inside a home, parents often wonder if lead in plumbing can be a source of lead poisoning.

The good news is that lead is no longer used in plumbing fixtures, plumbing components and solder – the metallic mixture that joins pipes together. But you can still find lead in water lines that bring fresh water from the City’s pipes to homes and businesses. In fact, Roxbury and Dorchester are among the areas with the highest concentrations of lead water lines still in service.

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission has no lead components in the City’s water lines, but some homes and businesses still have lead water lines in service. Therein lies the problem. Do the lead water lines contaminate clean drinking water? Lead mineralizes when it’s exposed to water, so the inside of a lead pipe develops a hard rock-like coating over time. Lead particles don’t penetrate the mineral shell. The evidence doesn’t suggest that lead water lines are a significant source of ongoing contamination, but that’s not a comforting thought to individuals and families who receive their water through lead lines.

Replacing a lead water line isn’t hard, but it can be expensive. Replacement usually involves excavating around the old lead, removing it and replacing it with copper or another safe material. Voluntary replacement of lead plumbing is always an option for a homeowner, but when a lead water line breaks from age, damage or cold weather, repair is off the table. Most plumbers today have never handled lead lines (except to remove them) and no longer have the tools or the experience to work with lead pipes safely. Replacement is the only route in this case.

BWSC offers a low-cost, leaking line replacement program for homeowners in its service area. Under the Leak-Up-To-Owner (LUTO) program, BWSC can replace a leaking water line (lead or not) for a reasonable cost, and much less than what it would cost to work with a private contractor. Under the program, homeowners can repay BWSC in 24 monthly installments as part of their regular water bill with 0% interest on the repair.

Eligible accounts are those that serve a 1-3 residence building, have a water line that is no bigger than 2 inches, are up-to-date on their water and sewer account balance, and agree to have BWSC complete the repair. The program is also limited to those properties where replacement does not present any extraordinary challenges, like the removal of fences, shrubs, walls or portions of the building.

If you have a lead water line that isn’t leaking, Boston Standard Company offers a free water analysis using AquaPure & 3M test kits. Based on the results of the analysis, we can help you identify contaminants in your water, and assist with setting up water filtration systems to remove them.

If you would like more information about the LUTO program, please visit the BWSC website. If you would like more information about the water quality and water filtration services Boston Standard can provide, please give us a call at (617) 288-2911 anytime to set up an appointment.

Photo Credit: Boston Standard Plumbing