What’s the first thing you think of when you hear “older home”? For many, it’s lead pipes. And with so many older homes here in Upper Michigan, you can bet lead pipes aren’t uncommon.
Are lead pipes a cause for concern? Maybe – but maybe not. Lead pipes are only a concern if they’re both connected to the water supply (rather than the waste lines) and actively leaching lead into the water. We’ve known for decades that lead exposure is a big health hazard. That’s why, in many cities where lead pipes are common, water treatment plants add phosphates to the water supply. These phosphates react with the lead pipes to create a barrier, making the pipes safer for potable water distribution. However, this is not a foolproof method, as the Flint crisis shows.
To monitor and prevent health concerns related to water quality, cities are required to perform yearly water quality testing at the tap – after the water has gone through the pipes. This information is available to the public.
But what about the water quality in your home?
Unless the city tested at your home’s tap, your water quality could differ from the city’s results. That’s because each house has different piping, and therefore, different water quality.
And it’s not just the pipes that could be adding lead to the water. Almost all the older homes in Marquette have had their lead pipes removed, but the connection from the water main to the house may still be made of lead. Additionally, old solder used to seal copper pipes has a high lead content which also has a chance of entering the water supply.
Why haven’t these sources of lead contamination been removed?
There are several reasons. Most homeowners aren’t aware that lead plumbing isn’t the only way lead can enter their water supply. And since the city testing determines that the water is safe, homeowners may not think water testing is needed.
Additionally, replacing water lines is expensive. Even if a previous homeowner did know there was lead contamination, they may not have had the budget to do anything about it.
And lastly, lead plumbing parts have variable leaching. This means that some homes with lead plumbing parts may have a lot of lead dissolving in the water, but others with similar parts may have little to none.
What can you do?
There’s a simple way to find out whether lead is getting into your water supply: water quality testing. Lead and arsenic testing are included in our standard water test. While a water quality test won’t determine if you have lead in your plumbing, it will detect lead in the water.
In addition to water testing, InterNACHI certified home inspectors can identify sources of lead in visible plumbing.
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