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Portland Water Bureau

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Information about Lead in Household Plumbing

By Jaymee Cuti

You’ve seen the headlines about the public health crisis in Flint, Mich. Thousands of Flint residents, including particularly vulnerable children, were exposed to lead-laced water. This prompted President Obama to declare a federal state of emergency in Flint.

The Portland Water Bureau is paying attention to what unfolded in Flint and our thoughts are with those who are struggling without access to safe and reliable water in their homes.

This kind of incident is unlikely to happen here because Portland’s drinking water comes from two high-quality sources – the clean, cold and protected water of the Bull Run Watershed and Columbia South Shore Well Field. Our source water meets or surpasses all federal and state drinking water standards.

In Portland, we do not have lead pipes. Our distribution system has never used lead service lines.

Prior to 1940 the Portland Water Bureau did use short 2- to 3-foot lead pipes called pigtails to connect service lines in some homes. In 1998 the Portland Water Bureau completed removing all remaining known lead pigtails from the system.

The main source of lead in drinking water in Portland is from lead solder used in home plumbing. Even then, only very few homes are affected – generally those built between 1970 and 1985. Lead can also be found in brass plumbing fixtures and components installed prior to 2014, with components older than 1985 having potentially higher amounts of lead. The Portland Water Bureau regularly tests for lead from homes known to contain lead solder. These test results consistently meet federal regulations.

The greatest source of exposure to lead in the Portland region is from lead paint in homes build before 1978.

The Portland Water Bureau shares a commitment with water providers to protect public health. Portland has a unique, comprehensive approach to dealing with lead in our community. The Portland Water Bureau treats the water to make it less corrosive. This treatment has reduced levels of lead at the tap up to 70 percent in water from high-risk homes. The Portland Water Bureau also funds education, outreach and testing for all sources of lead, including lead paint.

The only way to know with certainty if you have lead in your home plumbing is to test your water at the tap. The Portland Water Bureau provides free lead and water test kits to any customer by request. If you are concerned about lead levels in your drinking water, or would like information on ways to reduce exposure to all sources of lead contact the LeadLine at www.leadline.org or 503-988-4000 to request a free lead-in-water test kit.

Here are some simple steps you can do to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water from your home plumbing:

  • Run your water to flush out lead. If water hasn’t been used for several hours, run the water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before drinking or cooking.
  • Use cold, fresh water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not use water from the hot tap to cook, drink, or make baby formula. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
  • Consider using a filter. Confirm the filter is approved to reduce lead. Always maintain and replace a filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to protect water quality. Contact NSF International at (800) NSF-8010 or www.nsf.org for information on performance standards for water filters.
  • Test your child for lead. Ask your physician or call the LeadLine at 503-988-4000 to find out how to have your child tested for lead. A blood lead level test is the only way to know if your child is being exposed to lead.
  • Consider buying low-lead fixtures. As of Jan. 1, 2014 all pipes, fittings, and fixtures are required to contain less than 0.25% lead. When buying new fixtures, consumers should seek out those with the lowest lead content. Visit www.nsf.org to learn more about lead content in plumbing fixtures.

Regularly clean your faucet aerator. Particles containing lead from solder or household plumbing can become trapped in your faucet aerator. Regularly cleaning every few months will remove these particles and reduce your exposure to lead.

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