In Communities Across America, lead pipe was once the choice hardware for serving homes with drinking water. It connected them to public and private utility water mains often under a street. As a material, lead pipe was flexible, and by itself or in combination with galvanized steel pipe, it made for easier underground installation, navigating twists and turns under streets, sidewalks, lawns and home foundations. It was promoted by industry groups at the turn of the century and commonly used to the 50’s until eventually banned by Congress.
Lead pipe has emerged as a hidden health risk, not like the visible flaking of paint associated with lead poisoning. So its use underground, concealed and corroding, is now a parallel to the environmental problem of leaking underground fuel storage tanks.
As an example, these dissected Red Bank, New Jersey century-old documents of a former home show a permit for and installation of a water service line using galvanized steel pipe and a short lead “bend” connector. However, homes like this one with a partial or entirely lead service line installed, are still numerous today. To react, water utilities add chemicals to tap water to keep the lead from dissolving into the water flowing through, but often with mixed results.
One alternative to water service lines treated for lead, is the expensive replacement of them, with typical costs of $3,000 to $6,000. But who pays? Depending on the location, the responsibility varies from utility to homeowner, and a related town ordinance may not always be enforced evenly or consistently.
A lower cost alternative is installing a water filter at the tap, and there are many choices. Some filters may remove only lead, and others will remove all substances, rendering the water tasteless to some people.
As water utilities may follow only the minimum legal requirements for the testing of tap water, it’s important for everyone to be aware of their health risk, especially expectant mothers and young children. One may start by asking their water provider to test their home for free, or have it done themselves at your own cost, to know where one stands in this emerging national problem.