Getting a Clue about Lead Plumbing

by Lisa Donahue

Photo credit: Eric Vance, US EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, US EPA

In the classic murder-mystery board game of Clue, Colonel Mustard or Miss Scarlett might use a lead pipe as a weapon.  Where did that lead pipe come from?  That old mansion probably had lead pipes serving the kitchen, and running from the water main into the basement. Lead was a common plumbing material that was used then to manufacture brass faucets, pipe fittings, solder, and other plumbing components.

Congress banned lead pipes and limited lead in brass and solder in 1986 because lead can affect almost every system in the body. While children are most susceptible, adults can also experience harmful health effects from lead.

Any home, particularly those built before 1986, might still have lead in the plumbing.  Because lead can leach out of the plumbing into our drinking water, Congress recently changed the law to further restrict lead content in plumbing.  Instead of requiring everyone to remove the old pipes and faucets from their homes and businesses, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act that went into effect in 2014 requires that most fixtures manufactured and sold meet the new, lower-lead standard. When replacing leaky valves, renovating buildings, or building new construction, homeowners and contractors should make sure they’re using products that meet the new, lower-lead standards.

EPA’s consumer guide is a great reference that can help plumbers, contractors, homebuilders, and do-it-yourselfers figure out if the faucet they are buying meets the new standard.   The guide interprets common labeling marks you might find on packaging, in the product specifications, or from independent third-party certifiers to be certain a product meets the tighter standards.  EPA has also put together a Frequently Asked Questions guide to help everyone understand the new law, including the common question of what to do about inventory and replacement parts.

While there is no safe level of lead, the new law ensures that just about any plumbing product that is installed today meets the new standards, because minimizing the amount of lead in plumbing reduces our exposure to lead at the tap.

Most of us don’t think about our plumbing or water quality until there’s a leak or a problem. If you’d like to get “clued-in” to common issues related to water and lead, EPA’s website has more information.


About the author: Lisa Donahue is an Environmental Scientist with Region III’s Water Protection Division.  When it’s too dark to hike, bike, or ski, she enjoys playing board games with her family. She’s particularly good at Clue.



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