Lead

You may have heard news stories about lead contamination and wonder about the safety of your own water system. Cal Water takes numerous steps to ensure the safety of your water. We:

  • Rigorously monitor water quality.
  • Maintain and upgrade our systems to ensure that water circulate properly.
  • Test the corrosiveness of the water and add corrective measures when necessary to prevent lead from home plumbing fixtures from affecting water quality.
  • Carefully plan and conduct thorough water quality testing before using any new source of water.

We do all this because protecting your health and safety is our highest priority. For more information about the water quality of your system’s drinking water, review your annual local Consumer Confidence Report, also known as your Water Quality Report.

While Cal Water works to ensure the water delivered to customers’ meters is safe, home plumbing can impact water quality. Cal Water has found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in some homes and buildings. Lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. Please read this information closely to see what you can do to reduce lead in your drinking water.

What Does This Mean?

Under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA set the action level for lead in drinking water at 15ppb (0.015 mg/L). This means utilities must ensure that water from the customer’s tap does not exceed this level in at least 90% of the homes sampled (90th percentile value). The action level is the concentration of a contaminant which, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements which a water system must follow. If water from the tap does exceed this limit, then the utility must take certain steps to correct the problem. Because lead may pose serious health risks, the EPA set a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of zero for lead.  The MCLG is the level of contaminant in drinking water which there is no known or expected risk to health.  MCLGs allow for a margin of safety.

What Are the Health Effects of Lead?

Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body. The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children, and pregnant women. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain to lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead more than healthy adults. Lead is stored in the bones and it can be released later in life. During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother’s bones, which may affect brain development.

What Are the Sources of Lead?

The primary sources of lead exposure for most children are deteriorating lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust, and lead-contaminated soil. Exposure to lead is a significant health concern, especially for young children and infants whose growing bodies tend to absorb more lead than the average adult. If you are concerned about lead exposure, parents should ask their health care providers about testing children for high levels of lead in their blood.

Lead in drinking water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning, can significantly increase a person’s total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead.

Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants in that it seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away, of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household plumbing.  These materials include lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, brass and chrome plated brass faucets, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect your house to the water main (service lines).  In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2% lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0%.  In California, a similar law prohibiting the use of both lead solder and lead pipe was enacted in 1985.

When water stands in lead pipes or plumbing systems containing lead for several hours or more, the lead may dissolve into your drinking water. This means the first water drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon after returning from work or school, can contain fairly high levels of lead.

What Can I Do To Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water?

The most common source of lead in drinking water is the corrosion, or wearing away, of household plumbing fixtures and water system components that contain trace amounts of lead. To minimize risk, both the state and federal governments limit the amount of lead allowed in materials to deliver tap water, such as pipes, solder, faucets, and other plumbing fixtures. Cal Water monitors for lead in drinking water as required by law. If you would like to participate in our monitoring program, contact your local Customer Center to see if your home qualifies. If you are unsure about lead levels in your home, or if your home was constructed before 1985, you may wish to take these precautions:

  • Run your water to flush out lead. If water hasn’t been used for several hours, run water for 15-30 seconds or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes lead-containing water from the pipes.
  • Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula.  Do not cook or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead.
  • Look for alternative sources or treatment of water.  You may want to consider purchasing bottled water or a water filter. Read the package to be sure the filter is approved to reduce lead or contact NSF International at 800-NSF-8010 or www.nsf.org for information on performance standards for water filters.
  • Test your water for lead.
  • Identify if your plumbing fixtures contain lead.  New brass faucets, fittings, valves, including those advertised as “lead-free” many contribute lead to drinking water. The law currently allows end-use brass fixtures, such as faucets, with up to 8% lead to be labeled as “lead-free”. Consumers should be aware of this when choosing fixtures and take appropriate precautions.

For More Information

If you have any questions about these test results, our monitoring program or for more information, contact us.

For more information on reducing lead exposure around your home or building and the health effects of lead, visit EPA’s Web site at www.epa.gov/lead, call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD, or contact your health care provider.