What You Need to Know About Lead Service Line Replacement

Service lines are small pipes that connect individual buildings, like houses, to a city’s water main that runs below the street. These service lines deliver drinking water to your tap. Millions of homes across the United States have service lines made of lead, a toxic metal that is especially dangerous to young developing brains. The only long-term solution to protect public health is to remove these lead pipes and replace them with new copper pipes. Watch this video to learn what you need to know and how to safeguard your health during and following a replacement. For advice on how to get your water tested or how to find the right filter, check out NRDC’s page on “How to Protect Yourself from Lead-Contaminated Tap Water.”

This is a transcript of the video.

You’ve probably heard a lot about lead in drinking water. And you’re probably wondering, how do you find out if you have a potential problem?

What I want to talk about today is some of the ways that you can figure out if you potentially have lead in your drinking water, and what you can do about it if you do.

A lot of people don’t think about how water gets into their house, but lead service lines are the pipes that connect your home to the water main that runs below the street in front of your house. These service lines deliver drinking water to your tap.

Millions of homes across the U.S. have service lines made of toxic lead that can contaminate the water that runs through the pipe. You may have a lead service line if the water pipe coming into your home from outside is grayish in color, a magnet won’t stick to it, or, when you scratch the pipe with a coin, it leaves a shiny silvery mark. Your local water utility may also have records or be able to conduct an in-home inspection to see if you have a lead service line.

If you believe you have a lead service line, you should get your water tested and use a water filter certified to remove lead until the line is replaced. If you do have a lead service line, what can you do about it?

The only long-term solution to protect public health is to remove these lead pipes and to replace them with copper pipes.

Contact your local utility to see if it has a program to replace your lead service line for free or at reduced cost. Some utilities may recommend that homes with lead service lines run or flush their water before using it to reduce exposure from the lead service line. While the recommendation for each home might vary, flushing your line may require running your water for five minutes or more to eliminate all the water that was sitting in that lead service line.

If you’re concerned about wasting water, you can capture the water and use it to clean or water your plants. The important thing to remember is removing the entire lead service line is how to protect your drinking water.

Some cities or utilities actually only replace a portion of the lead pipe that runs from the water main to the curb in front of your house. Or they may leave in the connectors that contain lead.

But this partial replacement of a lead service line can actually make the problem worse, and often can dramatically increase levels of lead in tap water. If you learn your utility or water department intends to replace only a portion of your lead service line, ask for resources to help you replace the entire lead service line.

If you do have a full service line replacement, the construction could still disturb the water pipes and loosen some lead particles inside the pipes. It’s important to be sure, immediately after the replacement, to follow the instructions from the utility about flushing the pipes to remove any of the lead particles that may have ended up in the water. Also, continue to use a water filter certified to remove lead, or bottled water for drinking and cooking. Be sure to do that for at least the next six months.

For those who ended up getting a partial lead service line replacement, it’s important to be vigilant because there is still water running through lead pipes. Be sure to follow your water utility’s instructions to flush your water pipes and be sure to do that for at least the next six months. Also, continue to use a water filter certified to remove lead, or bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Get your water tested regularly. But in the end, it is most important to have all of the lead pipes removed from your house. Continue to look for opportunities to do a full replacement of your lead service line.