Lead in Drinking Water FAQ
Why is there lead in drinking water?
Not all water systems have detectable lead. Thankfully, much of Nevada’s water contains naturally occurring minerals that makes it “hard water” which combats corrosion of piping materials. In some instances though, water can be more corrosive. Pipes, plumbing materials (older leaded solder), and plumbing fixtures (older faucets made of chrome or brass that contain lead) can leach some of the metal out of the plumbing and into drinking water. Factors that affect lead levels in drinking water include the amount of lead in the construction materials, the length of time water sits unmoving in the plumbing, and the water chemistry.
What does the State do about that?
NDEP’s Bureau of Safe Drinking Water regulates public water systems in Nevada to ensure overall protection of public health. Two classifications of water systems are subject to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR); these are Community water systems (serving residential or mixed-use areas) and Non-Transient, Non-Community water systems (serving places where the same people go every day, like a business or school that has its own well). There are approximately 340 water systems subject to the LCR.
Staff in the NDEP Bureau of Safe Drinking Water evaluates lead and copper levels in these systems, reviewing each lead result by hand. Because our number of systems is relatively low, whenever staff sees an elevated lead result (even if the system is legally in compliance with LCR) in a drinking water sample, we are able to interact with the water system to investigate the potential source(s) of the problem and provide technical assistance to remedy the problem.
How does the Lead and Copper Rule protect public health?
The intent of the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) is to protect public health primarily by reducing water corrosivity. Lead and Copper enter drinking water mainly from corrosion of plumbing materials. The LCR establishes an Action Level (AL), but exceedance of the action level is not a violation.
An AL exceedance triggers other requirements such as confirmation of elevated levels, public notification and education, monitoring for other aspects of water chemistry, establishment of corrosion control treatment, and possibly lead service line or faucet replacement.
The rule is designed as a decision tree that begins with analysis of water samples for lead and copper from a targeted pool of high risk sampling locations, which are based on a water system’s knowledge of materials in the system, including the possible existence of lead pipes.
If drinking water exceeds action levels, the system must determine the cause of the problem through additional sampling of source water and tap water, as well as an infrastructure investigation. If a system’s subsequent monitoring is below action levels, then further action may not be warranted. Systems that continue to exceed action levels in tap water samples must address the issue through pursuit of infrastructure replacement or installation of corrosion control treatment. Systems that continue to exceed action levels in tap water samples after treatment of source water may then be required to evaluate taps with lead service lines and phase in replacement over time.
How many water systems in Nevada have a lead problem?
Overall, we have seen very few instances of lead exceedances and those have been limited to small systems. Only three small water systems are currently exceeding the Action Level for lead, with all three systems taking required steps to return to compliance.
How can I get the water tested in my home?
If a home is old and has original piping, concerned homeowners can contact a laboratory to order a sample bottle and purchase a lead analysis for about $30 - $50. The laboratory will provide instructions on how to collect a good sample for lead and copper.
One unique aspect of the Lead and Copper Rule is that samples are collected by participating homeowners because the sample has to be drawn first thing in the morning after the water sits in the pipes overnight. Some water systems have difficulty maintaining a pool of residents interested in participating. Consumers who are interested in helping with this compliance program are encouraged to contact their water system to volunteer and see if their home’s construction qualifies. In return, the homeowner would receive lead and copper results specific to their location at no charge.
What if my lab result is higher than the State's Action Level?
The Action Level for water system compliance is 0.015 milligrams per liter (parts per million) for lead and 1.3 milligrams per liter for copper.
If your result is higher than these levels and your water comes from a public water system, please contact them to discuss the result. You can also contact the NDEP at 775-687-9521 to report the result and the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water will follow up with the water system.
If your home is on a private well you can contact the Bureau for technical assistance.
What else can I do right away to protect myself and my family?
There are some simple things you can do right away.
- Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for 6 hours or longer (overnight, after a workday, after vacation), “flush” your cold water pipes by running the water until it becomes as cold as it will get. This could be as little as 5 to 30 seconds if there have been showers or toilet flushing. Otherwise, it could take two minutes or longer.
- Use only water from the cold water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
- Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not remove lead.
A concerned homeowner may also choose to purchase an NSF-Approved water filter or install whole-house treatment. When deciding on a unit to buy, consumers need to be careful to read the fine print and make sure the device is designed and certified to remove lead. NSF certification will be indicated on the packaging.
What's all this talk about lead service lines?
A service line is the section of pipe that connects a building to the water supply. Through different times in America’s construction industry, these service lines could have been made with lead. Lead service lines are more likely to exist in buildings built before WWII, unless they have already been replaced. While we have historic communities, much of Nevada’s construction is newer than that and not expected to include lead service lines. It is important to know that the existence of lead service lines does not necessarily mean there is a public health issue (see the section above “How does the Lead and Copper Rule protect public health?”)
You said something about lead solder and lead in plumbing materials?
For a period of time in construction history, some buildings constructed after 1982 but before the Nevada lead ban in 1989 could have lead solder in the plumbing system that has a higher lead content. In 1989, Nevada banned solder that had a lead content higher than 0.2%.
Before 2014, there was also a lead content standard for pipes, fittings and fixtures that capped lead content at 8%. In 2014, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act went into effect nationally. This amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act capped the lead content of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures at 0.25% based on a weighted average of the wetted parts of the construction material. Nevada has adopted this standard.
Where can I get more information about my drinking water supply?
We would encourage the people living in Nevada to take an active role in understanding their water quality by reviewing information in the annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) that is required to be issued by Community Water Systems annually by June 30th.