Lead FAQs

What is lead? 

Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is harmful if inhaled or swallowed. Lead can be found in air, soil, dust, food, and water.

How can I be exposed to lead? 

The most common source of lead exposure is from paint in homes and buildings built before 1978. Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in U.S. children. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. 

Although the main sources of exposure to lead are ingesting paint chips and inhaling dust, lead also can be found in some household plumbing materials and some water service lines. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10 to 20 percent of human exposure to lead may come from lead in drinking water. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.

What are the risks of lead exposure? 

Lead can cause a variety of adverse health effects when people are exposed to it. These effects may include increases in the blood pressure of some adults; delays in normal physical and mental development in babies and young children; and, deficits in the attention span, hearing, and learning abilities of children. 

How does lead get into my drinking water? 

Lead is rarely found naturally in our source water or in the treated water flowing through the distribution system. More commonly, lead leaches into water over time through corrosion—a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. Lead can leach into water from pipes, solder, fixtures, faucets (brass) and fittings. The amount of lead in your water depends on the types and amounts of minerals in the water, how long the water stays in the pipes, the water’s corrosivity, and water temperature. Treatment of the water can reduce the amount of lead leached by reducing the corrosivity of the water and providing protection to the pipes. 

In addition to managing water quality parameters such as pH, OMU’s system includes the use of phosphate in OMU’s water treatment process. Phosphate treatment creates coatings on the inside of pipes throughout the system and protects from leaching of lead from the pipes into the water.

How will I know if my drinking water has lead in it? 

Although it is not required, OMU’s Water Quality Team conducts testing at both of its treatment facilities and within the distribution system. In addition, every three years, OMU works with customers throughout the system to conduct in-home testing as well. OMU has not encountered any elevated lead (at or above the USEPA action level of 15 ppb) results from these tests.

You can also have your water tested for lead. Since you cannot see, taste, or smell lead dissolved in water, testing is the only sure way of telling whether there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water. A list of certified laboratories is available from the Kentucky Division of Water.

Is my home at risk for lead plumbing? 

The EPA defines high-risk homes as follows: 

Homes with a lead service line that connects the water main (located under the street) to your home’s internal plumbing.

Homes with copper pipe and lead solder built after 1982 and before 1988. 
Homes with lead pipes.

In 1986, Congress enacted the “lead ban,” which stated that not only public water systems, but also anyone else who intends to install or repair drinking water plumbing connected to a public water system, must use “lead free materials.” As a result, homes built in or after 1988 are far less likely to have lead solder. 

I’m concerned my home may have lead plumbing. How can I find out? 

If you’re concerned your home plumbing may contain lead pipes (lead is a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key) or if you see signs of corrosion (frequent leaks, rust-colored water), you may want to have your water tested by a state certified laboratory. 

Testing is the only way to confirm if lead is present or absent. For more information on testing your water, you can call the Kentucky Division of Water.

Will my water utility replace my lead service line? (Link to Service Line Information Sheet)

Lead services lines on a customer’s property are not part of the public water system and are the responsibility of the property owner. Lead service lines are owned and installed at the expense of the property owner. 

OMU strongly advises that you contact a licensed plumber for work on your service line.

How can I reduce my exposure to lead in my drinking water? 

There are many steps you can take to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water, but if you have lead service lines, the best step you can take is to have them replaced.