About Lead in Drinking Water

Key points

  • Exposure to lead in tap water has decreased
  • Lead pipes, faucets, and plumbing fixtures can increase risk of lead exposure
  • Lead can enter drinking water when a chemical reaction occurs in plumbing materials that contain lead
  • There is no safe blood lead level that has been identified for young children
  • The best way for you to know your risk of exposure is to identify the potential sources of lead in service lines and household plumbing
Hand filling a glass up with water at the sink.


The most common sources of lead in drinking water are lead pipes, faucets, and plumbing fixtures.

Certain pipes that carry drinking water from the water source to the home may contain lead. Household plumbing fixtures, welding solder, and pipe fittings made prior to 1986 may also contain lead.


Steps taken during the last two decades have reduced exposures to lead in tap water. These steps include actions taken under requirements of the 1986 and 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Lead and Copper Rule.

Even so, lead in water can come from homes with lead service lines that connect the home to the main water line. Homes without lead service lines may still have:

  • brass or chrome-plated brass faucets
  • galvanized iron pipes
  • plumbing soldered with lead

Some drinking water fountains with lead-lined tanks and other plumbing fixtures not intended for drinking water may also have lead in the water. This includes lab faucets, hoses, spigots, hand washing sinks.

Lead can enter drinking water when a chemical reaction occurs in plumbing materials that contain lead. This is known as corrosion – dissolving or wearing away of metal from the pipes and fixtures. This reaction is more severe when water has high acidity or low mineral content. How much lead enters the water is related to:

  • the acidity or alkalinity of the water
  • the types and amounts of minerals in the water
  • the amount of lead that water comes into contact with
  • the water temperature
  • the amount of wear in the pipes
  • how long the water stays in pipes
  • the presence of protective scales or coatings in the pipes

Risk factors

No safe blood level has been identified for young children. All sources of lead exposure for children should be controlled. Lead can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. The EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero. Lead is a toxic metal that is persistent in the environment and can accumulate in the body over time.

Risk will vary depending on the individual, the chemical conditions of the water, and the amount consumed. For example, infants who drink formula prepared with lead-contaminated tap water may be at a higher risk of exposure. The large volume of water they consume relative to their body size increases their risk. Bathing and showering should be safe for adults and children because human skin does not absorb lead in water.

Prevention tips

Lead cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled in drinking water. The best way to know your risk of exposure to lead in drinking water is to identify the potential sources of lead in your service line and household plumbing.

Contact local water authority

Your local water authority is always your first source for testing and identifying lead contamination in your tap water. Ask your water provider if there is a lead service line providing water to your home. If there is a lead service line present, ask if there are any programs to assist with removal of the lead service line going to your home. Individual risks to lead exposure increases while the work is ongoing and for up to six months after the work is completed. This includes while the water main or service line is being replaced.

Ask to have water tested

Ask to have your water tested. Many public water systems will test drinking water for residents upon request. There are also laboratories that are certified to test for lead in water. Water sampling results can vary depending on the time of day, season, method of sampling, flow of water and other factors.

Reduce or eliminate exposure to lead in tap water

Individuals can take action to reduce the amount of lead in their drinking water and minimize their potential for exposure if they are concerned about lead in water or know their plumbing contains lead.

People can reduce their exposure to lead in tap water by drinking or using only tap water that has been run through a "point-of-use" filter certified by an independent testing organization. This certification should indicate NSF/ANSI standard 53 for lead removal and NSF/ANSI standard 42 for particulate removal. Individuals with lead service lines can reduce their exposure with a filter for water used for drinking or cooking.

Individuals should drink or cook only with water that comes out of the tap cold. Water that comes out of the tap warm or hot can have higher levels of lead. Boiling this water will not reduce the amount of lead in your water.

People can virtually eliminate their exposure to lead in water by drinking or using only bottled water that has been certified by an independent testing organization. This may not be the most cost-effective option for long-term use.

Testing children for lead exposure

You should contact your child's healthcare provider if you think you or your child has been exposed to lead in water. Most children and adults who are exposed to lead have no symptoms.

The best way to tell if someone has been exposed is with a blood lead test. A health care provider can decide whether a blood lead test is needed. They may also recommend appropriate follow-up actions if a child has been exposed. As levels of lead in the blood increase, adverse effects from lead may also increase.