Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes and plumbing fixtures that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water.
The older the home, the more likely it is to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder. In particular, homes built before 1988 were built before the maximum allowable lead content was lowered in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Newer homes are most likely to comply with the public health goal of zero lead in pipes and fixtures.
Corrosion is a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. A number of factors are involved in the extent to which lead enters the water, including:
the chemistry of the water (acidity and alkalinity) and the types and amounts of minerals in the water,
the amount of lead it comes into contact with,
the temperature of the water,
the amount of wear in the pipes,
how long the water stays in pipes, and
the presence of protective scales or coatings inside the plumbing materials.
To address corrosion of lead and copper into drinking water, EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the authority of the SDWA. This rule was updated in 2021 in the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR). One requirement of both the LCR and LCRR is that water systems add corrosion control treatment, to prevent lead and copper from contaminating drinking water. Corrosion control treatment means utilities must make drinking water less corrosive to the materials it comes into contact with on its way to consumers' taps.
In addition to corrosion control treatment, the LCRR adds stricter requirements for locating and removing lead pipes. Drinking water systems are reaching out to their customers to help locate all the lead service lines (the pipe that connects a customer's home or building to the water system's main lines), and to develop a plan to replace those lead service lines.
What is Kentucky doing to protect consumers from lead in drinking water?
Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) is supporting water systems in several ways. DOW offers technical assistance to water systems to maximize the corrosion control treatment. DOW has also provide resources and guidance to water systems to remove lead service lines; check out the 'Lead and Copper Rule Revisions' tab. Through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, Kentucky water systems can apply for loans and grants to help fund removal of lead service lines.
Kentucky is also using grant funding from the EPA through a Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act grant to help identify where lead may occur in schools – part of the Lead in Drinking Water Reduction program. Because children are most at risk of lead poisoning, this program can provide schools with information needed to reduce the risk of lead to schoolchildren.
Stakeholders, including water systems and community organizations, can participate in the Lead in Drinking Water workgroup, part of the Drinking Water Advisory Workgroup. Members of the public are welcome and encouraged to participate in this workgroup.