Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is a toxic metal that gets into drinking water from lead or galvanized iron pipes and fittings, lead solder, and brass or chrome fixtures. Lead can be found in public and private water systems and in household plumbing. Lead pipes were commonly used for drinking water until the 1940s. Vermont Plumbing Rules banned lead solder in 1988 and allow only faucets and fittings that meet NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) standards for lead.

Hot water dissolves lead more easily than cold water. This means that you should run the water until it’s as cold as it can get for making baby food and formula or for cooking.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an Action Level for lead at 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of drinking water.

The Health Department recommends testing your private water source for lead and other contaminants. Find out what you should test

Do you know if you have lead pipes in your home? Check out this online tool to help you find out. If you are on town water, your water utility will know what the pipes are made of from their service line to your meter, but they don’t know what pipes you have inside your home. If you are on public water, test your water for lead to find out if your pipes or fixtures are a source of lead.

Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is a highly toxic metal. There is no safe level of lead in the body. Too much lead in the body, or lead poisoning, can cause serious and permanent health problems. Children and pregnant women are at special risk. Young children’s bodies are developing, which makes them more sensitive to lead. Children also absorb lead more easily than adults. Lead poisoning in children can:

  • Hurt the brain, kidneys, and nervous system
  • Slow down growth and development
  • Make it hard to learn
  • Damage hearing and speech
  • Cause behavior problems

In pregnant women, lead can increase the risk of miscarriage and cause babies to be born too early, too small, or with learning or behavior problems. In adults, lead can cause high blood pressure and result in decreased fertility in men.

Treatment Options

Flushing out the plumbing will lower the amount of lead in the water in most cases. Every morning or when the water has sat in the pipes for more than six hours, let the water run until it’s as cold as it can get.

Other household water uses—such as showering or toilet flushing—will also help clear standing water from plumbing. Keep in mind that you will still need to run individual faucets for a short time before using them for cooking and drinking water. You may want to keep a container of drinking water in your refrigerator, so that the water does not have to be run every time you need it.

Other ways to reduce lead from drinking water include:

  • Plug-in distillation units
  • Reverse osmosis treatment installed under the kitchen sink.
  • NSF approved activated carbon filters

Sediment filters do not remove lead.

If you are on a public water system, the supplier or municipality can tell you what efforts have been made to decrease overall lead levels. For public water systems, call the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation at (802) 828-1535.

Financial Assistance: Is there funding available to help me pay for my water system or treatment?

Vermont Wastewater and Potable Water Revolving Loan Fund

This program, also known as the On-site Loan Program, is available to certain Vermont residents for the repair or replacement of failed water supply and on-site wastewater systems. The On-site Loan Program is funded and administered by the Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation with loan underwriting and servicing provided by the Opportunities Credit Union in Winooski. Your drinking water supply has to be a failed system and you must be living in the residence on a year-round basis to be eligible. The family income cannot exceed 200% of the state median household income. For more information about eligibility and how to apply, call 802-461-6051 or visit the website.

The NeighborWorks Alliance of Vermont

The NeighborWorks Alliance is made up of five local organizations offering full affordable housing services for income-eligible individuals. You may qualify for help from this program if you need money to install a water treatment system, drill a well, or repair or replace your septic system. For more information on eligibility, contact the local NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center in your region.

Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants

This program offers loans and grants to exiting homeowners for well construction, repair and sealing. It's administered by the Rural Development office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is for low-income families who live in a rural area or a community with a population of 25,000 or less. The family income cannot exceed 50% of the median county income. Individuals who are 62 years of age or older may qualify for a grant or a combination of a loan and grant. Younger applicants are eligible only for loans.

Burlington, South Burlington, Essex Junction, Winooski and parts of Colchester are ineligible for the program because of population. Even if your property is in an eligible area, your eligibility is still subject to income limits. For more information or to find out if your property is in an eligible area, call 802-828-6022 or visit the website.