Boston plumber looks out for lead
Submitted by Joseph Wood, owner of Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating
Although lead has long been recognized as a human health hazard, it wasn't until the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1986 that builders and plumbers were actually prohibited from using lead pipe, solder and flux in plumbing systems that connect to a municipal water supply. While lead pipe fell almost entirely out of favor for residential use after about 1970, lead solder was regularly used until the mid-1980s.
This widespread use of lead means that some homes of this vintage have lead in water supply lines that carry potable water from the municipal supply to the home. Because lead is so hazardous, eliminating it from your plumbing can significantly reduce the chance of localized water contamination.
Generally, your water provider will not know what your fresh water supply line is made of. You can examine the visible portion of your intake line to determine its probable composition. Your supply line will be visible from its entry point into your home to your water meter, usually in the basement or in a utility closet for homes that sit on a slab foundation.
Lead has a distinctive, dull gray appearance. Lead is also very soft, so a lead water supply line could even be misshapen or bent. Using a screwdriver or the point of a nail, you can gently scratch or press on the surface of your supply line. If the screwdriver leaves a permanent mark or indentation, the supply line is likely made of lead.
Replacing a water line is a major plumbing repair and should be completed by a licensed plumber who can safely remove lead. Like your other utilities, there is a point of demarcation (demarc) between your system and the municipal water supply. You're responsible for the water line up to the demarc, so you will probably have to pay to replace a lead supply line on your own. Some municipalities may provide a grant or low-cost financing to help defray the cost of lead abatement.
Replacing the water line will require a building permit, some excavation, professional plumbing assistance and a follow-up inspection. Consult with a licensed plumber, who can make all necessary arrangements to complete the work safely and according to municipal specifications.
The water supply line isn't the only place lead can lurk in your residential plumbing system. Lead solder was commonly used in pipe joints prior to 1986, and was usually a 50/50 mix of lead and tin. Today, plumbing solder is often 95 percent tin and 5 percent antimony. If your home was built before 1986 and has copper plumbing, lead solder joints can contaminate your water.
The most reliable way to detect lead contamination is to test the water. At Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, we provide free water sample testing. The results take a few days to obtain, but they're very accurate.
If you don't want to wait for results, you can still determine whether a plumbing joint contains lead by surface-testing it with a lead testing kit. You can purchase easy-to-use lead-testing swabs at your local hardware or home improvement store. You will be able to see the results of the test immediately.
If the swab – which can also be used to test paint and other surfaces in your home - produces a positive result, assume the test is accurate and replace the joint with a lead-free one. A licensed plumber can safely remove the lead solder and replace the joint using lead-free materials that are safe for use in fresh-water systems.
Lead plumbing components are a recognized source of lead contamination and should be eliminated whenever they are found. If you suspect that your residential plumbing system may contain lead pipe or other lead components, contact a licensed plumber for a consultation.
Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating was incorporated in 2008. Starting with one service truck, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating now operates with four trucks and seven employees. Joe Wood, owner of Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating has been a plumbing, heating and cooling professional for ten years.
As of August 9, 2011, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check AngiesList.com for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.