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Before developing a mitigation plan, it’s important to understand how lead gets into drinking water. Source water from a water treatment plant rarely contains lead. However, lead can be released into water from corrosion (or wearing away) of plumbing material that contains lead. Sources of lead in water include lead service lines (the water line connecting your facility to the water supply), galvanized metal pipes, brass or chrome-plated fixtures containing lead, and lead solder connecting copper piping.

Sources of lead in water graphic

The first step to determine the source of lead at your facility is to investigate for the presence of a lead service line, which is a lead pipe connecting the facility to the water main under the street. Where present, lead service lines are the greatest contributors to lead in drinking water. To determine if your service line is made of lead, contact your water utility who may have records. Another option is to conduct a visual inspection by checking the water service line where it enters the building either on your own or with assistance from a licensed plumber. Check out NPR’s interactive web-based tool for guidance on visually inspecting for a lead service line.

The best way to identify if lead is present in your facility’s internal plumbing system is to test all drinking and cooking water sources. After you’ve investigated for a lead service line, review your lead in water test results.

  • If your first draw sample tests positive for lead, there is likely lead in the fixture like a sink faucet or a drinking fountain. Focus on mitigation strategies that address the fixture directly.
  • If your 30 second flush sample tests positive for lead, the lead is likely coming from a source further upstream in the internal plumbing system. Focus on mitigation strategies that address plumbing.
  • If both your first draw and 30 second flush samples test positive for lead, consider strategies that address both the fixture and plumbing.

If many or all of your samples contain lead, a water service line and/or upstream plumbing made of lead or galvanized material could be the source of lead. A licensed plumber can help you determine if you have leaded plumbing connected to or inside to your facility. Once you have a better idea of how lead might be entering your drinking water, you can begin to determine which long-term mitigation strategies you need to include in your mitigation plan.