Lead in Drinking Water in Washtenaw County
Sources of drinking water in our area, whether groundwater or surface water, do not contain high levels of naturally occurring lead. However, lead can leach into water supplies through lead pipes and plumbing fixtures that contain lead. The use of these products has been phased out over time. Lead pipes were often used in homes built before 1988, and lead components were used in some plumbing fixtures until 2014.
Testing for Lead in Drinking Water
If you have a concern about lead in your water supply, you can get the water tested by a certified laboratory.
- Purchase a lead water sample analysis bottle through our Environmental Health office. The cost for the analysis is $15. You pick up the bottle at our office, located at 705 N Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48103, and take the bottle home to collect a sample. You then bring the filled bottle back to our office, and it is sent to a lab for analysis. Results are generally available within 3-5 business days. For questions call 734-222-3800.
- Purchase a lead test kit from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) laboratory. Call 517-335-8184 to order a test kit. They will mail you the kit and instructions for collecting the sample and mailing it back to the lab.
- Contact another laboratory certified in lead testing.
How Lead Gets into Drinking Water
Types of Lead in Drinking Water
There are two different types of lead that can be present in drinking water, soluble lead and particulate lead.
Soluble lead is the lead that dissolves in water because of the chemical reaction between water and plumbing that contains lead. Public or municipal water supplies use corrosion control to limit the amount of lead that dissolves in water. Corrosion control is generally the addition of a chemical called orthophosphate to the water, which creates a protective layer inside the pipes. Regular water use in your home helps coat the pipes as water containing orthophosphate moves through the pipes.
Particulate lead is like tiny grains of sand but is actually dislodged scale and sediment released into the water from plumbing. Activities like replacing a water meter, construction, excavation, or home plumbing repair can cause particulates to shake free from pipes and plumbing. Particulate lead is a concern because the lead content can be very high. Levels of particulate lead can vary between samples. A lead particulate could be present in a single glass of water, but not present in water sampled just before or after. If you see have had work done on your home's water system or see construction nearby, check your water filters, clean your aerators, and flush (run) the water in your home.
Tips to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water
Use Water Filters or Treatment Devices
Use a certified lead-reducing drinking water filter if your home has or if you are uncertain if it has one of the following:
- Lead or galvanized plumbing. See how to check for lead in your home plumbing.
- A lead service line carrying water from the street to their residence.
- Old faucets and fittings that were sold before 2014.
Lead can be safely removed from drinking water by using the correct water filter. Look for filters that are tested and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for lead reduction and NSF/ANSI Standard 42 for particulates. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to install the filter and maintain it. For help choosing a filter, including photos of what to look for when purchasing a filter, see this EPA guidance.
Run the Faucet Before Drinking
The most likely way for lead to enter the water supply is by leaching due to prolonged (6+ hours) contact with the lead source, such as a pipe or fitting. Run the faucet until the water runs cold (usually 30 to 60 seconds) before using the water for drinking, cooking, or washing fruits and vegetables.
Note: If you are on a municipal system with a known lead service line, the flushing time is greater, for 5 minutes. This situation does not apply to well systems since lead service lines aren’t used in private wells.
Use Cold Water
Lead dissolves more easily into hot water so be sure to use cold water for drinking, eating, or cooking. Run cold water until it becomes as cold as it can get before using.
Boiling unfiltered water does not remove lead, and it may actually increase the amount of lead in the water. This is because the lead does not boil down, but the amount of water does, which increases the concentration of lead left behind.
Clean your Aerator
Aerators (the mesh screens on your sink faucet) can trap pieces of particulate lead. Clean your drinking water faucet aerator at least every 6 months. If there is construction or repairs to the public water system or pipes near your home, clean your drinking water faucet aerator every month until the work is done.
Replace Older Pipes and Fixtures
Replace plumbing, pipes, and faucets that may add lead into your drinking water. Older faucets, fittings, and valves sold before 2014 may contain up to 8% lead, even if marked "lead-free." Replace faucets with products manufactured in 2014 or later and tthat are certified to contain 0.25% lead or less.
Municipal Water (public water supply)
If you get a water bill, you most likely have a municipal water and are connected to a public water supply. Public water supplies are required to test water from some homes on their system for lead. When at least 10% of tested homes on the same public water supply have lead above 15 parts per billion (ppb) in the water, the water supplier acts to lower the amount of lead in the water. This amount, 15 ppb, is called an action level.
To learn more about your water, ask your public water supplier for their annual water report, known as the Consumer Confidence Report. Results from lead testing are provided in that report. Recent public water supply results are also available here. If your public water supplier is not able or willing to sample the water in your home, you can have your water tested by a certified laboratory.
Residential Water (private wells)
Residential water supplies served by individual wells in Washtenaw County do not have the same requirements for lead testing as public water supplies. Lead is not likely to be naturally occurring in the groundwater in our area, so we do not require lead testing for individual residential wells. Parts of your well, such as the pump, pipe, or valves, may contain lead. The connecting pipe, indoor plumbing, and faucets may also contain lead. If you’re concerned about lead in your drinking water, have it tested by a certified laboratory.
- Lead in drinking water - Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS)
- Lead and copper in drinking water - Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE)
- Lead in tap water - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Lead in drinking water - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Lead in drinking water - NSF International
- Lead poisoning - Washtenaw County Health Department