splashing water


Lead is a common, naturally occurring metal found throughout the environment. Lead seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes, and lead is rarely present in water coming from a treatment plant. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of corrosion in lead pipes that connect some older homes to the water system and household plumbing that contains lead. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry also notes that "children can be exposed to lead by putting their hands that have touched lead-containing soil or dust into their mouths".

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "Children are exposed to lead in paint, dust, soil, air, and food, as well as drinking water." EPA estimates "drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water."

See this animation to better undertand how lead can get into water, and what you can do to keep your water lead-safe.

Lead is a concern because it is a toxic metal that can cause immediate effects at high doses and long-term effects if it builds up in the body over many years. Lead can cause brain and kidney damage in addition to effects on the blood and vitamin D metabolism. Children are more vulnerable to lead because their bodies are smaller, and because they are still developing. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are also at higher risk for negative health effects associated with lead exposure.


If you are concerned that you or a family member may have been exposed to lead, consult with your family doctor or pediatrician to receive a blood test for lead and learn more about the health effects associated with exposure.

The federal Lead and Copper Rule requires all public drinking water systems regularly test a sample of high-risk homes for lead at the tap. If more than 10 percent of homes tested have lead concentrations higher than EPA “action level” of 15 parts per billion, individual water utilities are required to notify area residents. If the lead level remains consistently above the action level, the water supplier must take steps to control corrosion.

A revised Lead and Copper Rule became final in December 2021 and is designed to be more protective. Under the new rule, water systems are required to map out where lead is present in their service areas, and publicly share that information. Utilities are also required to inform all customers within 24 hours if their sampling shows an exceedance of the action level. They are also required to test in schools and child-care facilities. The new rules go into effect in October of 2024.

The new rule is part of the broader Biden-Harris Administration Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan. EPA intends to propose and then promulgate further revisions by Oct. 16, 2024.

The water leaving the treatment plant and traveling through water mains is almost always free of lead. However, lead is sometimes present in pipes connecting older homes to the water system or in fixtures and home plumbing. Water utilities adjust the water’s chemistry at the treatment plant to minimize the possibility of lead dissolving into the water.

If your drinking water never comes into contact with lead materials, you are not at risk. Most lead materials were effectively banned in 1980s, so if your home was built after that decade, lead is unlikely to be a concern. If you live in an older structure, there are steps you can take to see if you may be at risk. Contact your water provider to see if it has home testing options available. If not, it can help you find a certified laboratory to test your water.

Your utility may or may not know if you have a lead service line. If not, you can find out yourself or with the help of a licensed plumber. Service lines typically enter the home in the basement or crawl space. If the pipe is lead, it will have a dull finish that shines brightly when scratched with a key or coin. Using a magnet can also help you identify a lead pipe, because even a strong magnet will not cling to lead.

A licensed plumber can inspect both your service line and other materials in contact with your drinking water.

Water systems that deliver soft water, which has fewer dissolved minerals, and water that is more acidic and higher in dissolved oxygen, can be more corrosive, increasing the risk of lead contamination. Watch for frequent leaks, discolored water and stained dishes or clothes, as these are all signs of corrosive water. Also, check with your local water utility to find out more about whether your water is corrosive and what can be done. You can also find out if your public supply system contains any lead piping.

Review Denver Water's illustration on the most common source of lead in treated drinking water.

If you're concerned about lead in your drinking water, you can take several steps to limit possible exposure. Read AWWA's Lead - Keep Your Water Safe brochure for guidance.

  • Testing at the tap is the only way to measure the lead levels in your home or workplace. You can’t see, smell or taste lead in your water. If you choose to have your tap water tested, be sure to use a properly certified laboratory. Testing usually costs between $20 and $100. To find a state certified laboratory, contact a state certification officer.
  • Flush your tap water. Flushing the tap is particularly important when the faucet has gone unused for more than a few hours. It takes time for lead to dissolve into water, so the first water drawn from the tap in the morning or after a long period of non-use can contain higher levels of lead. Flushing clears standing water from your plumbing and home service line to ensure you are getting drinking water from the main, where lead is rarely present. Let the water run from the tap until it is noticeably colder (this may take up to two minutes or more) before using it for cooking or drinking.


    Remember, you must flush EACH drinking water faucet after long periods of non-use for this strategy to be effective. Use the flushed water for non-potable purposes such as watering plants or washing dishes.

  • Use only cold water for cooking or drinking. Lead leaches more easily into hot water than cold water.
  • Boiling water DOES NOT remove lead.
  • After moving into a new home, remove faucet strainers and rinse them to remove any debris. This should be done periodically to remove accumulated debris as well.

Treatment and Removal Devices

Some home treatment devices remove lead, but not all do. In order to make a well-informed and cost-effective decision, consider:

  • checking with your water system or consumer confidence report to learn if your household is at risk
  • identifying a device that has been independently certified to remove lead.
NSF International, the Water Quality Association, Underwriters Laboratories and CSA International all certify home treatment products for removal of contaminants. If a home treatment device is used, it is very important to follow the manufacturer's operation and maintenance instructions carefully in order to make sure the device functions properly.

AWWA's Lead and Your Water - Frequently Asked Questions document

EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline: 1-800-426-4791

National Lead Information Center: 1-800-LEAD-FYI