MWRA water is lead-free when it leaves the reservoirs, and MWRA and local water mains do not add lead to the water. However, lead can get into water through a lead service line (the pipe that connects your home to the main in the street) or household plumbing.
This page will let you know how lead can get into tap water and how you can reduce potential exposure to lead in your home. It also includes MWRA test results, information about how to get your household tap water tested for lead and more resources.
Table of Contents
How Can Lead Get into My Water?
service line that connects your home to the water mains in the street is made of lead. The pipes that carry water in the street are made of iron or steel, and do not add lead to your water. If you have concerns about your service line, you should contact your local water department.
Lead also can get into tap water if you have lead pipes in your home. Lead can also enter tap water from if you have lead solder or brass fixtures in your home. Corrosion or wearing away of lead-based materials can add lead to tap water, especially if water sits for a long time in the pipes before use.
How to Reduce Potential Exposure to Lead
To reduce your potential exposure, you should always use fresh, cold, running water for drinking and cooking. You should always buy plumbing fixtures that have zero- or low-lead levels. Read the labels of any new plumbing fixtures closely. Get your water tested.
Here are more steps you can take:
How to Get Your Home's Tap Water Tested for Lead
The best way to find out if your household tap water contains lead is to get your water tested by a lab that is DEP Certified to test household tap water for lead. DEP Certified Labs reliably test water at an affordable cost. Mail-in and drop-off options are available. Visit our DEP Certified Lab page for a list of labs and helpful links.
What MWRA is Doing to Lower Lead Levels at the Tap
MWRA has made the water less corrosive, thereby reducing the leaching of lead into drinking water. In 1996, MWRA began operating a facility in Marlborough where sodium carbonate and carbon dioxide are added to adjust the water's pH and buffering capacity. This change has made the water less likely to leach lead from the pipes.
Lead levels in found in sample tests of tap water have dropped significantly since this treatment change. Also, local water departments are working to decrease lead corrosion by replacing existing lead service lines.
About Lead Service Lines
A service line is the pipe that connects your house to the water main in the street. Some service lines that run from older homes (usually those built before 1940) to the utility water main are made from lead. Over time, many of these older used service lines have been replaced, but your home could still have one.
How to Tell if You Have a Lead Service Line
To determine if your home has a lead service line you (or your plumber) need to inspect the service line.
Lead service lines are generally a dull gray color and are very soft. You can identify them easily by carefully scratching with a key. If the pipe is made of lead, the area you've scratched will turn a bright silver color. Do not use a knife or other sharp instrument and take care not to puncture a hole in the pipe.
Lead Control Update for MWRA Communities: Presentation Materials for the March 21, 2016 Community Lead Forum (PDF)
Ownership of the lead service line is typically shared between homeowners and your local water department. The homeowner typically owns the section of the pipe that is under the homeowner’s property.
There may be MWRA communities that have already eliminated their lead water service lines. Check with your local water department to find the status in your community.
Replacing Home Service Lines
When replacing lead service lines, it is best to replace the entire lead service line. The surest way to remove concerns about lead from lead service lines is to get all the lead out by removing the entire service line.
If a pregnant woman or child lives at your home, replacing the lead service line can be an important way to reduce the potential for lead exposure.
The actual cost of service line replacement reflects a number of factors including the length of the service line, the technique used to install the new service line, and the environment where the service line is located.
Please contact your local water department to learn more about options for lead service line replacement and any payment assistance possible.
MWRA Test Results
MWRA Meets Lead Standards
Under U.S. EPA rules, each year, MWRA and your local water department must test tap water in a sample of homes that are likely to have high lead levels. These are usually homes with lead service lines or lead solder. The EPA rule requires that 9 out of 10, or 90%, of the sampled homes must have lead levels below the Action Level of 15 parts per billion (ppb).
Update on Lead and Copper Sampling
The most recent sampling round, once again, meets the Lead Action Level. Results from lead and copper samples collected in September 2015 show that 97.5% of the targeted high-risk homes had lead levels equal to or below the Lead Action Level (AL) of 15 parts per billion (ppb), meeting the requirement of at least 90%. The 90% value was 6.2 ppb. MWRA, as a system, has met 20 straight rounds.
Important Information about the Health Risk of Lead from EPA
Infants and young children are typically more vulnerable to lead in drinking water than the general population. It is possible that lead levels in your home may be higher than levels in other homes in your community as a result of materials used in your home's plumbing. Infants and children who drink water containing lead in excess of the action level could experience delays in their physical or mental development. Children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning disabilities. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure. If you are concerned about lead levels in your home's water, you may wish to have your water tested. Flush the water until after the water is cold before you use it.
For MWRA households, average water and sewer costs are approximately one cent per gallon. Most homes in the service area do not have lead issues with their tap water. Also, simply running your tap until the water is noticeably colder, after the water has been sitting for several hours, is usually a much cheaper and effective alternative to a filter or bottled water. Some water filtration systems do not remove lead. Before you purchase a filter, you should verify the manufacturer’s claim. A good resource is the National Sanitation Foundation(1-877-867-3435). If your water has elevated levels of lead after flushing, bottled water is also an option, but it may cost as much as 1,000 times more than tap water.
More MWRA Drinking Water Test Results
MWRA conducts hundreds of thousands of tests per year on over 120 contaminants.
Related Pages on mwra.com
Testimony provided to Congress by MWRA on behalf of the American Waterworks Associatiom, 03/11/05 (PDF)
MWRA Testimony on Lead Before the Boston City Council Committee on Health and Human Services, 12/01/05
A public service announcement about lead in tap water from MWRA (Video)
"Could There Be Lead in Your Tap Water?" Brochure (PDF)
General Lead Information: Mass. Department of Public Health Childhood Lead Prevention Program, (800) 532-9571
Mass. State Regulations: Department of Environmental Protection Division of Water Supply, (617) 292-5770
If you have questions or would like more information about lead in drinking water, please call our Water Quality Hotline: 617-242-5323, or email Joshua Das, Project Manager, Public Health.
(1) Water service line illlustration courtesy American Waterworks Association
(2, 3) Lead service line photos courtesy EPA Region 5
Updated May 20, 2016