Just Found Out Our Service Pipes Are Lead

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Topic: Just Found Out Our Service Pipes Are Lead

Announcements September 9, 2013 at 8:21 am

Just Found Out Our Service Pipes Are Lead

So, we just found out the service pipe coming into our row-home from the street is lead. A plumber we had in to do some maintenance just pointed it out. We bought our house 2.5 years ago, and it was basically a total renovation. The seller even replaced the retaining wall, so I’m baffled as to why they wouldn’t have replaced the service pipe as well. The inspector we had check things out before the purchase also never pointed it out. Since then, we’ve been drinking the water regularly and we’ve had one baby with another on the way. Needless to say, we need to take care of this ASAP.

What I’d like to find out from the POPville community is what other people’s experience has been with lead pipes, and whether anyone knows if we might have some form of recourse (against the seller, or the inspector). This isn’t going to be a cheap fix, so I don’t want to be left holding the bag if I don’t need to be.

Thanks in advance for any help!-

-E in Rosedale

3 Replies Add Reply

Hi E-

A few thoughts. First, I wouldn’t panic. Although, with kids, I’d be as concerned as you seem to be. Except when DC Water (DCW) plays with their treatment chemicals, misleads the EPA and the CDC, many homes with lead service lines have perfectly safe drinking water. Crazy stuff when down over the last decade, but DCW is probably better behaved now. Lead service pipes typically have scaling that inhibits lead getting into the water.

So the first thing I’d do is get it tested (and I’d probably have the kids and you drink bottled water until you do … or pick up a brita filter pitcher. IIRC they are actually very effective at filtering lead.). DC offers free tests, or you can pick up a ~$20-$40 mail in kit at Home Depot. The previous owner of our house had a partial replacement (the public portion of the line), but the private portion wasn’t done, despite incentives to do them both at once! So I share your bafflement. But when we had it tested, the water was well below the EPA limits for drinking water.

We decided to put an undersink system in place for our drinking water anyways, since lead isn’t the only concern. At $30 per year +$180 up front, it’s been a good decision for peace of mind and no chlorine taste. I would recommend that you and your children drinking filtered water anyways (per DCW page too). It’s cheap and effective.

Next up … be aware that replacing the service pipe might not solve your problem. If you have galvanized pipe, odds are there is lead absorbed in the scaling in those pipes. So you might want a filter anyways, and you might re-think the service replacement in this scenario.

Next: Look at the DC water replacement pipe program. DCW is responsible for the public portion (not on your property) and they have a setup where you can pay for the private program and they’ll do the public portion. You can check through the link below whether the public portion of your pipe was replaced through their program.

Finally — I assume your baby has gotten blood lead tests? I think that’s DC law, more for paint than for water. Could be something to talk to the doctor about, and might help put your mind at ease.

Finally, as to the inspector, you’re probably out of luck. IANANL. They should have caught it (ours did), but they have plenty of disclaimers. FYI, DCW maintains a public list of which lots have been replaced (or not, though you have to call). Between that and the visible pipe, testable with a coin, it’s not like the seller was hiding anything. Even if they were aware, AFAIK there are no laws requiring disclosure (a la lead paint).

Good starting point for tests, service line research, etc: http://www.dcwater.com/lead/

Thanks for the thorough reply John. I’ve been digging around and gotten the ball rolling on everything that I can. Your points definitely reinforce what I thought, and have been reading online (which is reassuring).

POPville works!


Cheers + good luck! If you do end up with an undersink filtration system, I’ll offer to bits of advice: 1. Having a separate faucet AND the fridge / icemaker dispenser is awesome and 2. Watch what you buy. An off the shelf system from Home Depot may or may not be good at filtering lead. It’s surprising — seemingly identical GE systems (e.g.) could be great or mediocre, with no rhyme or reason. So read the specs … and consider filter replacement cost. We went with the Pentek US-1500 / Culligan SY-2650 / American Plumber WLCS-1000. They’re all the same housing (?!), but the Pentek has a flow meter to tell you when to replace the filter … and is cheaper. There’s a writeup in consumer reports a year or two ago.

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