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Did You Know?

A Watershed is a term used to describe the area drained by a river and its tributaries.

Sources of Lead

Lead is Everywhere

glass of water

Whether you live in an apartment or single family home, in an old or new neighborhood, lead is in your environment. It can be found in lead-based paint, soil, household dust, food, tap water, and certain types of pottery, porcelain, and pewter. Lead can pose a risk to your health if too much of it enters the body. Most cases of lead poisoning are from contact with peeling lead paint and lead paint dust. While lead in tap water is rarely the single cause of lead poisoning, it can increase a person's total lead exposure, particularly in infants who drink baby formula or concentrated juices that are mixed with water.

The water provided by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) is lead-free when it leaves the reservoirs. MWRA and local distribution pipes of the BWSC that carry the water are made mostly of iron and steel, and therefore do not add lead to water. However, lead can get into tap water through home service piping, lead solder used in plumbing, and some brass fixtures. The corrosion or wearing away of these lead-based materials can add lead to tap water, particularly if water sits for a long time in the pipes before use.

To monitor lead levels, MWRA and BWSC test tap water in homes in the City of Boston. Under EPA regulations, homes that are likely to have high lead levels (usually older homes which may have lead service lines or lead solder) must be tested after water has been sitting overnight. The EPA rule requires that 90% of these worst-case samples must have lead levels below the EPA Action Level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Although most homes have very low levels of lead in their drinking water, some homes may have lead levels above the Action Level of 15 ppb.

For more information, see our Lead in Drinking Water.

To find out if your property in Boston has a private lead service line, use the Lead Service Map to locate property and identify if records indicate a lead service line.

What is Being Done to Control Lead in the Drinking Water?

BWSC and MWRA are concerned about lead in your drinking water and are taking steps to stop lead from getting into your tap water. BWSC and MWRA both have an extensive testing program. In 1996, the MWRA began to treat water to make it less likely that lead could enter tap water from household pipes. Efforts to control water corrosivity include the addition of sodium carbonate and carbon dioxide to adjust the water's pH and alkalinity levels. Despite these efforts, lead levels in some homes or buildings can be high. Since internal plumbing varies from home to home, consumers are advised to continue taking precautions to prevent exposure to lead from drinking water. Follow the Steps to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water.

Under Federal law the BWSC and MWRA are required to have a program in place to minimize lead in your drinking water. This program includes:

  • Corrosion control treatment (treating the water to make it less likely that lead will dissolve into the water)
  • A public education program.
  • BWSC also has a private lead service line replacement program for eligible homeowners, Lead Replacement Incentive Program.

Where Can I Get More Information About Lead in Water?

Find out whether you need to take action in your own home, have your drinking water tested to determine if it contains excessive concentrations of lead. Testing the water is essential because you cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water.

Visit the MWRA for a list of state certified laboratories that can test your drinking water for lead or call the BWSC Lead Hotline at (617) 989-7888. For more information, see our Other Lead Resources page.