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Lead in Drinking Water
The City of Aurora’s drinking water fully complies with the standards set in the Federal Lead and Copper Rule. The city Water Treatment Plant monitors the chemistry in city drinking water every day, and there is no detectable level of lead in the finished water pumped from the Water Treatment Plant.
Basic Information About Lead in Drinking Water
Lead is a common, naturally occurring metal found throughout the environment. Lead seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes, and lead is rarely present in drinking water coming from a treatment plant. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of corrosion or wearing away of materials in the water distribution system and household plumbing that contains lead.
Lead is a concern because it can cause long term effects if it builds up in the body over many years. Children are more vulnerable to lead because their bodies are smaller and because they are still developing. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are also at higher risk for negative health effects associated with lead exposure.
There is no detectable level of lead in the finished water pumped from the City of Aurora’s Water Treatment Plant or the city's water distribution system. However, lead can dissolve into your drinking water if water sits for several hours in your plumbing fixtures or your service pipes that contain lead. Lead levels in drinking water are likely to be highest in homes with 1) lead service lines (pipes) connecting the water main in the street to your home, 2) lead indoor plumbing, 3) copper plumbing with lead solder, and 4) brass fixtures containing lead. Lead levels vary from home to home and are dependent on lead sources between the water main in the street and an individual household tap. Pipe materials vary substantially across the city, even among homes located on the same block. The concentration of lead in drinking water varies among homes within the city. Homes built prior to 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder.
The City is responsible for providing high-quality drinking water, but cannot control the variety of materials previously installed in plumbing components from the water main to your home. Thus, minimizing lead exposure is a shared responsibility of the City of Aurora and individual residents. It is strongly advised that drinking water customers remove any lead pipes and lead plumbing materials serving their home.
How is Lead in Drinking Water Regulated?
In 1991, the US EPA published the Lead and Copper Rule. This regulation sets “action levels” for lead and copper in water. Action levels are not health standards but are set to limit the amount of lead and copper in drinking water.
The current regulations are designed to inform water system consumers of wholesale problems in their water supply. The regulations place an emphasis on optimizing the chemical properties of the distributed water to reduce its corrosiveness (such as pH or alkalinity adjustments) and thereby reduce the risk of lead contamination. While these measures can be effective in a large sense, they may not be effective with respect to individual properties subject to site specific conditions that increase their risk.
The City of Aurora reduces corrosion via the lime softening process utilized at the Water Treatment Plant. The corrosion control reduces the amount of lead corrosion that can occur in customer’s service lines and plumbing. This is accomplished by maintaining proper levels of pH, total alkalinity, and calcium. Each of these parameters are measured four times a day, every day, to ensure proper corrosion control is constantly provided to reduce the amount of lead entering drinking water. These corrosion control measures have successfully reduced lead levels in water in the city.
The Lead and Copper Rule requires that all public drinking water systems regularly test a sample of high-risk homes for lead at the tap. If more than 10 percent of homes tested have lead concentrations higher than the US EPA “action level” of 15 parts per billion, the city would be required to notify area residents via newspapers, radio, TV, and other means. If the lead level remains consistently above the action level, the city must take additional steps to reduce lead in water.
Aurora water customers voluntarily assist the City by collecting water samples from their taps in their homes during the proper sampling periods. The sampling locations, times, and specific collection procedures are regulated by the Illinois EPA. The Lead and Copper Rule is the only Federal drinking water regulation that requires sampling from household taps and thus, the City is accountable for results that are representative of pipes and plumbing on both public and private property.
Under the Lead and Copper Rule compliance monitoring program, Aurora is currently required to collect water samples from 50 customer homes throughout the city every three years. Sample sites are reviewed and approved by the Illinois EPA each sampling cycle. The City delivers sampling kits to these homes with detailed water collection instructions, and homeowners are responsible for collecting the water samples.
The City of Aurora’s drinking water fully complies with the federal Lead and Copper Rule. The 90th percentile results for lead from the required sampling conducted since 2004 are shown in the charts below.
Based on the sampling performed in 2015, the City expects to remain on reduced monitoring for the Lead and Copper Rule. Thus, Aurora is next scheduled to perform a cycle of lead and copper sampling in 2018.
Ways You Can Reduce Exposure to Lead
There are several steps that you can take to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water:
- Flush your pipes prior to using water for drinking or cooking. The more time water has been sitting in your home's pipes, the more lead it may contain. Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, flush your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes as cold as it will get. This could take as little as five to thirty seconds if there has been recent heavy water use such as showering or toilet flushing in your home. Otherwise, it could take two minutes or longer. Flushing may prove ineffective in high-rise or larger buildings that have larger diameter supply pipes.
To conserve water, use the flushed water for non-consumptive purposes such as watering plants or washing clothes. Also, after flushing the tap, fill a couple of pitcher-sized containers with drinking water and place them in a refrigerator for drinking or cooking uses later.
- Only use water from the cold water taps for cooking and drinking. Use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead. Run cold water until it becomes as cold as it can get. Note that boiling water will NOT reduce lead and could increase the concentration.
- Use water filters or treatment devices. If you are pregnant or have children under age six, use cold, filtered tap water for drinking and cooking until all sources of lead are removed. This includes water used for making infant formula, beverages, and ice. More information on point-of-use water filters and treatment devices is below.
- Remove and clean faucet aerators. Lead particles and sediment can collect in the aerator screen located at the tip of your faucet which can increase concentrations of lead in your drinking water. Aerators should be cleaned several times per year and replaced annually. Replacements are available at local hardware stores.
- Remove older plumbing fixtures and replace with lead-free fixtures. Install fixtures and fittings that contain 0.25 percent lead or less.
- Replace lead service lines (pipes). Replace your lead service line with copper pipe. See below for more information on how to determine if your service line is made of lead.
- Find out if lead in drinking water is an issue at your child’s school or child care facility. Children spend a significant part of their days at school or in a child care facility. The faucets that provide water used for consumption, including drinking, cooking lunch, and preparing juice and infant formula, should be tested.
Lead Water Filters
Recently a number of cartridge-type water filtering devices that remove lead from drinking water have become available. These filters are for household uses and can remove a broad range of contaminants, including lead. There are various styles of filters such as point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU). Point-of-use filters are typically less expensive and easier to maintain. These consist of faucet mounts and pitcher-style units. Any type of water treatment device that you choose should meet National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) standards. For lead removal, filters must be certified to meet NSF Standard 53, and the filter package should specifically list the device as certified for removing the contaminant lead. You should choose the type of filter that best fits your needs.
The NSF has a website specifically for water filters to remove lead. It can be found here:
It is important to routinely replace the filter cartridges according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Water filters and cartridges can vary in their length of use and replacement costs. Failure to do so may result in exposure to higher levels of lead.
The only way to know whether your tap water contains lead is to have it tested. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in your drinking water. Proper sampling is required to obtain a valid result. Note: A single test for lead in drinking water may not be representative of the level at all times or of the average over time.
It is important to test all of the drinking water faucets in your home, especially those that provide water for drinking, cooking, and preparing juice and infant formula. Lead in drinking water can be a very localized problem and can vary from tap to tap. It is a good idea to test all faucets that provide water for consumptive purposes.
If you don’t know whether your tap water contains lead, you should have the water tested by a certified laboratory. Lead testing costs approximately $30 to 45 per sample. Two certified laboratories that can assist you with the process of properly collecting a water sample and submitting it for analysis are listed below:
First Environmental Laboratory
1600 Shore Road
Naperville, IL 60563
Eurofins Eaton Analytical
110 South Hill Street
South Bend, IN 46617
If you believe that your child has been exposed to high levels of lead in drinking water, get your child tested to determine the lead levels in his or her blood. A family doctor or pediatrician can perform a blood test for lead and provide information about the health effects of lead. Talk to and follow the advice of your physician or your child’s pediatrician about lead hazards and blood lead levels. State, city, or county departments of health can also provide information about how you can have your child's blood tested for lead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that public health actions be initiated when the level of lead in a child’s blood is 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or more.
More Information on Lead in Drinking Water
The following websites contain much more information on lead in drinking water.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency – Lead in Drinking Water
- Center for Disease Control – About Lead in Drinking Water
- AWWA – DrinkTap.org – Lead in Drinking Water
- USEPA – Federal Lead and Copper Rule
Lead Service Lines and Piping
It is strongly advised that drinking water customers remove any lead pipes and lead plumbing materials serving their home. This may consist of the service line running from the water main in the street into your home, interior plumbing pipes and fittings, and interior fixtures such as faucets.
The water service pipe is owned by the property owner. However, under certain conditions, the City is authorized to repair portions of the service pipe in both public and private spaces. Maintenance of interior household plumbing is the exclusive responsibility of the property owner.
Find out whether your service line is made of lead. To determine the type of material of the service pipe on your property, check your household water service connection which is typically located in your basement. A home without a basement may have a utility room where the water service piping enters your home. The tools needed to perform the test are minor: a flathead screwdriver or coin and a refrigerator magnet.
- Step 1: Locate the water service pipe coming into your home (usually in the basement). A shut-off valve and the water meter are installed on the pipe after the point of entry into the building.
- Step 2: Identify a test area on the pipe between the point where it comes into the building and the shut-off valve. If the pipe is covered or wrapped, expose a small area of metal.
- Step 3: Use the flat edge of a screwdriver or coin to scratch through any corrosion that might have built up on the outside of the pipe. If the scratched area is shiny and silver, your service line may be lead. The magnet will not stick to a lead pipe.
Other typical materials of construction for service lines are copper and galvanized steel.
- Copper: If the scratched area is copper in color, similar to a penny coin, the line may be copper. The magnet will not stick to a copper pipe.
- Galvanized Steel: If the scratched area remains a dull grey and the magnet will stick to the surface of the pipe, the line may be galvanized steel.
If your lead service line has recently been replaced or repaired, or your water service has been turned back on, the City recommends that you take the following steps to reduce your short-term exposure to potential lead particulates which may have been loosened during the work on your piping.
- Step 1: Once your water service has been turned on or service line repair work completed, open all exterior spigots (hose bibs).
- Step 2: Let all exterior spigots run fully open for 10 minutes.
- Step 3: Remove all screens (aerators) from all the cold water faucets or cold water fixtures inside your home. Do not perform any flushing of hot water piping until the full flushing procedure has been completed as described.
- Step 4: After 10 minutes of only running the exterior spigots (hose bibs), fully open all interior cold water faucets and cold water fixtures (once the screens (aerators) have been removed). Allow both the exterior spigots (hose bibs) and all the interior cold water faucets and cold water fixtures to run together for 5 minutes.
- Step 5: After 5 minutes of running the interior and exterior fixtures together, close all the exterior spigots (hose bibs).
- Step 6: Continue to let all interior cold water faucets and cold water fixtures run for an additional 25 minutes.
- Step 7: After 25 minutes of flushing only the interior cold water faucets and cold water fixtures has passed, turn off all interior cold water faucets and cold water fixtures.
- Step 8: Replace all screens (aerators) removed in step 3 above.
You may now use your home’s water supply, both hot and cold water, as needed.
Find out if your indoor household plumbing contains lead. Contact a licensed plumber to inspect your pipes. Check the lead content in brass faucets, valves, and fittings. The manufacturer should be able to provide information about the percentage of lead in your plumbing and fixtures. Almost all faucets, valves, and fittings have brass components. Until 2014, brass faucets and fittings sold in the United States and labeled "lead-free" could contain up to eight percent lead. Effective January 2014, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act specifies that these materials may not contain more than 0.25 percent lead.