Frequently Asked Questions About Lead

What is lead? 

Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is harmful if inhaled or swallowed. Lead can be found in air, soil. dust, food, and water. 

How can I be exposed to lead? 

The most common source of lead exposure is from paint in homes and buildings built before 1978. Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in U.S. children. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. 

Although the main sources of exposure to lead are ingesting paint chips and inhaling dust, lead can also be found in some household plumbing materials and some water service lines. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10 to 20 percent of human exposure to lead may come from lead in drinking water. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water. 

What are the risks of lead exposure? 

Lead can cause a variety of adverse health effects when people are exposed to it. These effects may include increases in the blood pressure of some adults; delays in normal physical and mental development in babies and young children; and, deficits in the attention span, hearing, and learning abilities of children. 

How does lead get into my drinking water? 

Lead is rarely found naturally in our source water or in the treated water flowing through the distribution system. More commonly, lead leaches into water over time through  corrosion- a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. Lead can leach into water from pipes, solder, fixtures, faucets (brass) and fittings. The amount of lead in your water depends on the types and amounts of minerals in the water, how long the water stays in the pipes, the water's corrosivity, and water temperature. 

The Village of Western Springs utilizes a corrosion inhibitor as part of its water treatment process. Our corrosion inhibitor contains a proprietary polyphosphate/orthophosphate blend that is meant for lead/copper corrosion control and iron and manganese sequestration.

How will I know if my drinking water has lead in it? 

The Village of Western Springs regularly tests the water at a selected number of high-risk homes. The Village of Western Springs recently completed its mandated Lead and Copper Rule sampling in September 2017 with a 90th percentile value of 2.71 ppb and more than sixty percent of the homes tested receiving non-detect results. One location exceeded the 15 ppb action level; however, it is important to note that the residence had been vacant for some time and has since been torn down following sampling. 

You can also have your water tested for lead. Since you cannot see, taste, or smell lead dissolved in water, testing is the only sure way of telling whether there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water. It is recommended that you used a certified laboratory. 

Is my home at risk for lead plumbing? 

The EPA defined high-risk homes as follows: 

  • Homes with a lead service line that connects the water main to your home's internal plumbing. 
  • Homes with copper pipe and lead solder built after 1982 and before 1988. 
  • Homes with lead pipes. 

In 1986, Congress enacted the "lead ban," which stated that not only public water systems, but also anyone else who intends to install or repair drinking water plumbing connected to a public water system, must use "lead free materials." As a result, homes built in or after 1988 are far less likely to have lead solder. 

How can I reduce my exposure to lead in my drinking water? 

There are many steps you can take to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water. 

  • Run your water to flush out lead. If it hasn't been used for several hours, run the water for three to five minutes to clear most of the lead from the water. In an effort to conserve water, you can catch the flushed tap water for plants or other household uses such as cleaning. Check out the Flushing Instructions page for suggestions and recommendations on best practices for flushing your home.  
  • Always use cold water for drinking and cooking. Never cook with or drink water from the hot water tap. 
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce the lead content. 
  • Periodically remove and clean the faucet screen/aerator. While removed, run the water to eliminate debris. 
  • You may consider investing in a home water treatment device or alternative water source. When purchasing a water treatment device, make sure it is certified under NSF/ANSI-53 to remove lead. 
  • Identify and replace plumbing fixtures containing lead. Brass faucets, fittings, and valves may leach lead into drinking water. Products sold after Jan. 4, 2014, must by law contain very low levels of lead (0.2 percent by weight); however, prior to 2014, plumbing products could contain up to 8 percent lead by weight. 
  • Have a licensed electrician check your wiring. Your home electrical system may be attached to your service line or elsewhere in your plumbing. If this connection is electrified, it can accelerate corrosion.  

Should I test my children for exposure to lead? 

Children at risk of exposure to lead should be tested. Your doctor or local health center can perform a simple blood test to determine your child's blood-lead level.