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Drinking water and lead

Lead is a common metal. Although originally used in many consumer products, lead is now known to be harmful to human health if ingested or inhaled. It can be found in lead-based paint, air, soil, household dust, food, some types of pottery and drinking water. When people come in contact with lead, it may enter their bodies and accumulate over time, resulting in damage to the brain, nervous system, red blood cells and kidneys.

Where lead may be found in your home

Lead has been found in paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition and cosmetics.

Lead can enter drinking water through the corrosion of your home’s plumbing materials and water lines connecting your home to a water main. In Wisconsin, a 1984 law banned lead solder, but nationally the laws weren’t implemented until 1988. Some drinking water fixtures were manufactured with lead until 1996.

Check your plumbing

Contact a plumbing professional to determine whether your home’s plumbing may contain lead.

Test your drinking water

Testing is the only way to know whether lead may be present in your drinking water. Contact a certified laboratory for a test kit and sampling instructions or hire a plumbing professional to assist you.

Get the lead out: Ways to reduce lead exposure to drinking water

  • Check whether your home has a lead service line connecting to the water main.
    • Work with community and water utility officials if your home has a lead service line. It’s important to replace these lines in their entirety.
  • Check whether you have water fixtures or plumbing materials that may contain lead.
    • Consider replacing with non-lead materials where possible.
  • Flush the water before drinking.
    • If you have lead water fixtures, lead plumbing materials or a lead service line, flush any time the water has been motionless for four hours or more.
    • If you have a lead service line, flush your water until the line is cleared.
    • If you have lead fixtures but no lead service line, flush the tap for approximately one minute.
  • Clean faucet aerators regularly.
  • Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula.
    • Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily in hot water.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead.
    • Boiling water can increase the concentration.
  • Consider a water filter.
    • Select a filter that is approved to reduce lead.
    • Contact NSF International at 800 NSF 8010, or www.nsf.org [exit DNR] for information on performance standards for water filters.

Drinking water regulations

Wisconsin’s public water systems are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. For lead, systems are required to:

  • collect and analyze water samples from specific sites;
  • notify the home owner of the test results;
  • take action to reduce lead in drinking water when more than 10 percent of the sample results exceed 0.015 parts per million;
  • provide annual public education to inform all drinking water consumers when samples exceed the action level for lead; and
  • publish a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) summarizing the test results and make the report available to all consumers of community water systems.

DNR sends lead sampling instructions [PDF] to public water systems when sampling is required.

Sampling for lead or other contaminants is encouraged but not required for private well owners.

More information

Last revised: Thursday December 15 2016