Lead in Drinking Water

Lead can enter drinking water from lead pipes or lead-based solder on water pipes. This can occur when pipes containing lead corrode, especially where the water is acidic or has low mineral content. The federal Lead and Copper Rule requires a public water system to test tap water from sites likely to have plumbing containing lead. If more than 10 percent of tap water tested exceed the lead action level of 0.015 milligrams per liter, then a public water system is required to notify residents and take steps to reduce lead levels in the public drinking water supply.

Lead can also leach into water inside the home from corroding brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, particularly when running hot water. Even if you get your water from a private well, there may still be a concern about lead in your water if the plumbing in your home contains lead solder or lead materials. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. Homes built after 1986 have “lead-free” plumbing, but still can contain trace amounts of lead that can dissolve in water. You can reduce lead in your water by only using cold water taps for drinking and food preparation and running water for at least 30 seconds or until the water is cold before use (see Steps to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water below).

New York State Law and regulations require all public school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services to test drinking water for lead contamination and to take responsive actions to remove sources of lead. Schools must also notify staff, parents and guardians of students in writing when outlets exceed the action level indicating contamination and maintain test results on their websites.

Bottled water suppliers must routinely test their water supply for lead. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established a maximum contaminant level of 0.005 mg/L for lead in bottled drinking water.

Take Steps to Reduce Lead in Household Drinking Water

  • Run water for at least 30 seconds if it hasn't been used in several hours to flush out lead or until water is cold before using it for drinking or cooking.
  • Use only cold tap water for cooking, drinking or making a baby's formula; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Avoid cooking with or drinking hot tap water; DO NOT USE HOT TAP WATER TO MAKE BABY FORMULA.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
  • Replace plumbing fixtures if they are found to contain lead with Lead Content Certified Products.
  • Use bottled water that is certified by New York State or a Lead Content Certified water filter if your home is served by a lead service line, or if lead-containing plumbing materials are found in your home. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to maintain and replace all water filters.

How to Test Your Household Water and Water Service Line

While supplies last, New York State is offering a free lead test to check your household drinking water. Certified commercial laboratories can also test for lead in drinking water. The cost ranges from $15 to $50 per sample. Watch this NYS DOH video for steps for testing your drinking water for lead.

The easiest way to find out if you have a lead service line is by doing a “scratch test.” First, identify where the water service line enters the building. This is typically in a basement or near a water meter. Next, identify a test area on the pipe between the point where it enters the building and the inlet valve before the water meter. Using the flat edge of a screwdriver, gently scratch the outside of the pipe. If the pipe is easily scratched (i.e. the pipe is relatively soft) and the scratched area is shiny and silver, it is likely a lead service line (a magnet will not stick to lead pipe).

New York State provides grant funds to some municipalities for the replacement of lead water service lines from the public water main to the residence as part of New York State's Lead Service Line Replacement Program. The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) and Water Infrastructure Improvement Act (WIIA) also can provide municipalities with financial assistance for the replacement of lead service lines.

More Information

Contact your local health department with questions about lead testing drinking water or for advice about lowering lead levels in your drinking water. Email the NYS DOH Bureau of Water Supply Protection or call 518-402-7600 for information about what public water suppliers must do to address lead in drinking water.