Lead Prevention In Drinking Water FAQs

Does WSSC have lead pipes?

No. In 2005 WSSC conducted an aggressive search to find and replace any lead pipes in its distribution system. These pipes are on public property, owned and maintained by WSSC.

Do customers in the WSSC service area have lead service lines on their property?

A small percentage of customers may have lead service lines on their property.  Customers who are unsure about their service lines should contact a WSSC registered plumber to inspect these pipes.

In addition, some homes could have lead solder which was used to connect copper plumbing. In 1986 the EPA banned the use of lead solder in water pipes. In accordance with EPA guidelines, WSSC conducts  water quality tests every three years on selected homes with a high probability of containing lead soldered copper plumbing. In addition, additives in the drinking water provide a preventive coating for the pipes (see below).

What are the results of those tests?

Some customers may have a small traceable amount of lead, but no WSSC customers have levels approaching amounts that are a cause for concern under EPA guidelines.  The level of lead in 90% of homes we tested is less than 1.2 ppb, versus the 15 ppb level which the EPA says in unacceptable. In 2014, no homes exceeded 12 ppb.

What does WSSC do to prevent lead from entering my drinking water?

Despite the relatively low level of risk, WSSC adds a corrosion inhibitor (orthophosphate) to the water supply which creates a coating on pipes (including those on customers property) that prevents the pipes from leaching lead. While it is possible that some homes may have lead service lines or lead solder on the private property, WSSC’s corrosion control methods can reduce the amount of lead leaching into water from these sources.

Process with Corrosion Control (Source: Time.com)

Process without Corrosion Control (Source: Time.com)

Who do I contact if I don’t know what kind of pipes are on my property?

If customers live in older homes and suspect they may have lead service lines, they should contact a WSSC-registered plumber to determine if their homes contain lead pipes or contact WSSC’s Water Quality Center at 301-206-7575 about having their water tested.

How do I know if WSSC is maintaining the quality of my water?

Source water taken from the Potomac and Patuxent rivers is first treated by our water filtration plants where it is tested more than 500,000 times each year, including tests for lead before being sent out to homes and businesses. WSSC also tests lead from customer homes.

More information is available on the WSSC website, and WSSC’s annual Water Quality Report can be found at http://www.wsscwater.com/wqr.

What steps can customers take to mitigate the risk of lead in their drinking water?

While WSSC has not seen any lead levels requiring palliative measures, we recommend the following steps to further reduce the risks:

  • Run your water to flush out any potential lead content:  If water hasn’t been used for several hours, run water for 15 to 30 seconds or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before using it for drinking or cooking.
  • Use cold water for drinking, cooking and preparing baby formula:  Hot water is more likely to cause lead leaching that could contaminate water drawn from the faucet.
  • Periodically remove debris from faucet strainers – we recommend twice a year:  Remove the faucet strainers/screens from the faucet you use for consumption, rinse off the strainer, and run the water for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Have an electrician check the grounding in your home:  Contact a licensed electrician to check if grounding wires from the electrical system are connected to your water pipes (which may increase the corrosion of metals in the plumbing).  If so, see if wires can be grounded elsewhere.
  • Look for alternative sources (e.g. bottled water) or treatment of water if lead levels are elevated:  If purchasing a water filter, be sure that 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.
  • Get your child tested:  Contact your local health department or healthcare provider to find out how you can get your child tested for lead, if you are concerned about exposure.

Who is checking that WSSC is conducting these tests and maintaining the quality of the water?

WSSC is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to ensure the water we provide to customers meets federal and state regulatory standards. WSSC is also closely monitored by the executive and legislative branches in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as state legislators in Annapolis. WSSC has never had a drinking water violation in its 98-year history.

What happened in Flint? Could it happen here?

The short answer to “could this happen here?” is no. WSSC has a long-standing and effective program dealing with lead. In addition, there were a number of issues that were unique and specific to the Flint situation.

  • Flint officials made a budgetary decision to switch from water treated and distributed by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to a newly created water authority that used the Flint River as its source. The Flint River contains high levels of corrosive chloride, and the water quality issue was compounded when Flint officials decided to forgo using additives to control corrosion. As a result, high levels of lead leached into the drinking water.  (Note: WSSC uses a corrosion inhibitor chemical in its water treatment)
  • Flint did not conduct the necessary testing that would have detected lead in the drinking water. When conducting tests, they let the water run before sampling and aerators were removed prior to acquiring samples, which violates EPA protocols because it potentially downplays any lead levels that would be found. (Note: WSSC follows all recommended federal and state testing procedures.)
  • In Flint, a number of tests and warning signs were ignored for over 18 months. Despite repeated customer complaints and concerns from healthcare professionals, the issue of lead in the drinking water was not addressed until it was exposed on a national scale. This occurred primarily due to a lack of regulatory oversight. By contrast, WSSC is governed by six Commissioners, appointed by the County Executives of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, who oversee WSSC. WSSC is regulated by the EPA and MDE and is monitored by the councils of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as area senator and delegates elected to the State Legislature.
Last Modified: