City Cast

How to Test Your Water for Lead

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on June 12   |   Updated on July 7
D.C.’s got a pipe problem. (Wirestock/Getty Images)

D.C.’s got a pipe problem. (Wirestock/Getty Images)

D.C. ranks in the top 10 cities for lead pipes. The most recent estimates show 42,000 lead service lines in the District (the line between the water main and your house).

“D.C. has a history of serious lead-in-water issues,” said environmental reporter Kayla Benjamin. “Activists say there's no such thing as a safe lead pipe, even if the water is treated.” Even minor amounts can cause serious problems for kids and pregnant people. It’s particularly bad in D.C.’s older neighborhoods and buildings.

DC Water Service Information Map. (DC Water)

DC Water Service Information Map. (DC Water)

How do you know if you have lead in your water?

The first step is to search your address on DC Water’s Service Map. It shows if your home might have a lead service line, but it’s not fully conclusive.

If you are still unsure, DC Water offers annual free lead test kits for residential and commercial customers. However, Benjamin warns these “might not actually capture if there's lead in your water because lead can flake off. If there's no lead in your water one day, it doesn't necessarily mean that there's no lead in your water another day.”

DC Water also offers a guide on how to tell if your service line might be lead. If it’s not magnetic, and you can scratch it with a coin, it’s probably lead.

What do I do if it is lead?

"The most important thing to do,” says Benjamin, “is get a filter that is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation to meet ‘standard 53,’” which means it’s designed to reduce specific health-related contaminants like lead. And before you google it, yes, a Brita Filter qualifies.

If you want to replace your private lead service line, the District will pay for 50% to 100% of private-side costs depending on your household income.

Is anything else being done?

D.C. Council is considering a mandate that would replace all lead pipes free-of-charge for residents. There is no city budget for either, but there may be some federal money.

“We really have a moment to address this problem. But people have to say, ‘Hey, this matters to me’, and talk to their local leaders.” said Benjamin.

Listen to the full City Cast DC episode for more on how D.C. has failed in this department in the past, and what it’s doing to fix it now.

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