Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the Earth’s crust. Historically, lead has been used in many consumer products, including gasoline, paint, and plumbing materials.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that there is no safe level of exposure to lead. Children and pregnant people are most at-risk to lead exposure since lead has the greatest impact on developing brains and bodies.
Where Lead Exposure Comes From
Lead paint and dust are the primary source of lead exposure for Portland-area residents, especially in older homes. Other sources of lead in Portland include pottery, traditional cosmetics and medicines, soil, and plumbing materials.
The use of lead in plumbing systems and components dates back to ancient Rome. Lead pipes are flexible and easy to install, and lead in brass simplifies the manufacturing of components and improves threaded seals. In Portland, lead is rarely found in our source waters and there are no known lead pipes in the water system. It is the use of lead components in household plumbing that can result in lead in water as a result of the corrosion (or wearing away) of household plumbing materials containing lead.
Our Water Pipes
We have never used lead pipes for the water mains or service lines, which delivers drinking water to your home plumbing.
In the 1980s through 2000s, we actively worked to identify and remove lead components in our system. By 1998 we removed all known lead pigtails (a short pipe connecting the water main to the service line), and by 2008 we replaced all large meters with lead components that served at-risk populations. So where is this lead coming from?
Faucets, Fixtures, and Solder
Lead solder was commonly used to join copper pipe before 1985. Homes built or plumbed between 1970 and 1985 are at a higher risk for having lead solder. Faucets and fixtures installed before 2014 could contain some leaded brass as well.
What Can You Do
There are some easy steps you can take if you’re concerned about lead in your home’s water.
Get your home water tested for free, and run your water for 30 seconds to two minutes after it has been sitting in the pipes for several hours, such as in the morning when you wake up or when you return home from school or work. Running your water has been shown to reduce lead at the tap by up to 90 percent.
There are several other easy and effective suggestions to help you reduce the potential for exposure to lead in water.
Learn more about ways you can reduce exposure to all sources of lead in your home by visiting www.leadline.org.
What We’re Doing
Public health is our highest priority. The Portland Water Bureau cares about the health of the families in our community and is committed to help you limit your exposure to lead in drinking water. That’s why we’re taking steps to reduce our customers’ exposure to lead by adjusting our treatment.
In March, City Council approved the start of a corrosion control treatment pilot to determine the most effective improvements to our corrosion treatment. This pilot is currently underway and is the first step to constructing an improved corrosion control treatment facility, scheduled to be operational in 2022.
Free Lead Test Kit
Our customers – and customers of the City of Gresham, Rockwood PUD, Tualatin, Tualatin Valley Water District, West Slope Water District, and more – can order a free test kit from the LeadLine online or by calling 503-988-4000.
Using a free test kit is the only way to know if your home plumbing is adding lead to your water.
The test kit includes instructions, sample bottles, a postage-paid return envelope, and an information card that needs to be filled out by the customer and returned with the water sample.
Want to learn more about how you can reduce possible exposure to lead from household plumbing?