City making progress on lead pipe replacement, but still has a ways to go

ROCHESTER, NY – Currently, one in three water pipes in the city of Rochester is made of lead.

This is an improvement over 2018, when the city began a replacement project.

“I'm not saying it's unimportant, but I'm not thinking about it too much right now because we already have a system of tools to take care of it, right? I see a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Dave Rowley, water production manager for the city of Rochester.

When the project began, nearly half of the city's 60,000 utility lines were made of lead.

The service line is the pipe that starts in your home or business and runs to the main water line under your street. It is found on both public and private property.

Project manager Nick Wynne says on the public side: “The city has done an excellent job of providing the portion of the utility lines within the city, directly from the water main to the street and to a shut-off valve that is normally located on the sidewalk.”

So what does this mean for your drinking water?

Engineers have replaced lead pipes street by street with polyethylene, a plastic approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, replacing each individual pipe requires a lot of time, preparation and money.

In the meantime, are lead pipes safe to use?

Rowley says yes, with certain risk reductions, including using cold water and purchasing a water filter.

“I encourage people not to worry too much about it. If you want to know how much lead you have, we'll be happy to do a lead test for you. But those steps – I have mountains of data that show that if you take those steps, you're not at risk,” he said.

According to Rowley, this only becomes a real problem if the water sits in the pipes for a long time, such as overnight.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no safe level of lead for human consumption, but the EPA sets a maximum level of 15 parts per billion for public drinking water, and regular testing shows that this level is below that in Rochester.

Nevertheless, Rochester has set a goal of being lead-free by 2030.

There are two ways to find out whether your utility line is connected. One is via the city's real estate information page.

If the information isn't there, go to your basement and attach a magnet to your water pipe. If it sticks, your pipes are safe. If not, they are either made of copper, lead, or plastic.

Scratch the pipe – and if you get a shiny silver line, you have lead.

If you have lead pipes, Rowley says there are four things you can do to almost completely remove lead from your water.

  1. Use cold water. Hot water dissolves lead faster.
  2. If you haven't used your faucet for several hours, let the water run for a few minutes. This is called flushing the pipes.
  3. Clean the strainer on your faucet as particles can become trapped in it.
  4. Use a water filter that is NSF certified to remove lead, such as a Brita filter. Your city's water department will provide one for free.
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