Basic Information About Lead in Drinking Water

The City of Alexandria’s highest priority is the health and safety of its residents, businesses and visitors. Although water service in Alexandria is provided by Virginia American Water, a private company, the City has been in close contact with Virginia American Water regarding water quality.

Page updated on Jun 7, 2016 at 10:17 AM

Overview

The City of Alexandria’s highest priority is the health and safety of its residents, businesses and visitors. Although water service in Alexandria is provided by Virginia American Water, a private company, the City has been in close contact with Virginia American Water regarding water quality.  

This FAQ responds to questions about lead in water.  The City understands from Virginia American Water that the company has no lead water mains and has eliminated lead from company-owned service lines supplying more than 95% of water customers in Alexandria.  This represents significant progress toward the company’s goal of removing lead from all of its service lines.  

We have provided this FAQ to answer your questions about the City’s water service and safety. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Where does Alexandria’s water come from?

Alexandria’s drinking water comes from two surface water treatment plants owned by Fairfax County Water Authority:  the J.J. Corbalis treatment plant on the Potomac River, and the Griffith Plant at the Occoquan Reservoir.  This water, which is already treated with corrosion inhibitors, is purchased by Virginia American Water and delivered through its distribution system to Alexandria’s residents and businesses.

Where can I find Virginia American Water’s reports on Alexandria’s water quality? 

Virginia American Water provides the following reports on water quality in Alexandria:

  • The Basic Water Quality Summary, which includes most-requested information about the local area serviced by Virginia American Water. 
  • The Annual Water Quality Report (also known as the “Consumer Confidence Report,” or CCR), provides details about the source and quality of drinking water using the data from local water quality testing. The most recent CCR covers the period from January through December 2014. Every community water supplier is required by law to provide this report to their customers.

For general drinking water information and resources, including a home drinking water testing fact sheet, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) web page, Your Drinking Water. The EPA also has a Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1.800.426.4791

How is my home connected to the water system?

Water is carried under streets via large water mains owned by Virginia American Water.  A service line connects your building (house, condo building, apartment building, etc.) to the water main.  The part of the service line between the water main and the property line of your building is typically owned by Virginia American Water, and the part between the property line and your building is typically owned by the building owner (homeowner, condo association, landlord, etc.).  Once inside the building, water is carried to individual units and rooms through pipes.    

What is the likelihood my home has lead plumbing? 

Virginia American Water has indicated that there are no lead-containing water mains in Alexandria, and no lead in the company-owned service lines supplying more than 95% of water customers in Alexandria.  Remaining company-owned service lines, privately-owned service lines, and interior water pipes may contain lead.  

The EPA considers a home at high risk for lead plumbing if was built before 1940 or contains copper pipe and lead solder built before 1988.

In 1986, Congress enacted the “lead ban," which requires public water systems, and anyone else intending to install or repair drinking water plumbing connected to a public water system, to use lead-free materials. As a result, homes built in or after 1988 are far less likely to have lead solder. 

Our home may be at risk for lead. What can I do to reduce the risk of exposure while I learn more?

Virginia American Water is required to comply with a variety of federal and state regulations dealing with lead in drinking water. For more than two decades, the water provided by Virginia American Water has included a corrosion inhibitor that helps keep lead, iron and copper from dissolving from lines and pipes into the drinking water. Virginia American Water regularly tests through the company-owned system, and lead results have been consistently well below the level set by the EPA for action. 

However, while Virginia American Water regularly tests and is responsible for providing high quality drinking water, it is possible that lead and/or copper levels within your home are higher than in the rest of the system because of materials associated with the service lines and home plumbing at your location. For example, if the service line in your front yard is made from lead, or if there are lead-soldered copper pipes or brass faucets in your home, these may be a source of lead in your water. To reduce the risk of lead exposure if you are unsure of the materials associated with your water delivery, consider taking these simple precautions:

  • Flush Your Tap: When water stands in lead pipes or lead service lines, lead soldered pipes or brass fixtures for several hours or more, lead may dissolve into drinking water. To expel any water potentially containing dissolved lead, flush the water for several minutes, or until it changes temperature. Conserve water by using the first flush to wash the dishes or water the plants.
  • Use Cold Water for Cooking and Mixing Baby Formula: Avoid cooking with water from the hot water tap. Hot water can dissolve lead more quickly than cold water. Flush cold water for several minutes, or until it changes temperature. If hot water is needed, water can be drawn from the cold tap and heated on the stove or in the microwave.
  • Check Home Wiring: Have an electrician check the house wiring. If grounding wires from electrical systems are attached to household plumbing, corrosion and lead exposure may be greater.

How can I determine if my home’s pipes have lead and whether I should consider replacing them?

Some service lines that run from older homes (usually those built before 1940) to the utility water main are made from lead.  Over time, many of these older service lines have been replaced, but your home could still have one. Generally, lead service lines are a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key (do not use a knife or other sharp instrument—you may puncture the pipe).  If you also see signs of corrosion (frequent leaks, or rust-colored water), you may want to have your water tested by a state certified laboratory. Testing is the only way to confirm if lead is present or absent in the water.

The complexity and cost of service line replacement reflects a number of factors, including the length of the service line, the technique used to install the new service line, and the environment where the service line is located.

Even if the service line is determined to be lead-free, lead still can be found in some metal water fixtures and interior water pipes. Lead found in tap water usually comes from the corrosion of older fixtures or from the solder that connects pipes. When water sits in leaded pipes for several hours, lead can leach into the water supply. Again, the only way to know whether your tap water contains lead is to have it tested.

How can I get my water tested?

To obtain reliable results, it is important that water is collected correctly and tested by a certified laboratory. Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1.800.426.4791 or at www.epa.gov/safewater/lead. Virginia American Water also provides its customers with the following list of lead testing locations in Northern Virginia, all of which are state certified. The testing fees range from $40-$45 and each lab will provide the procedures to follow for in-home testing:

  • Schneider Laboratories Global Inc., 2512 West Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23220, 804.353.6778
  • Mid Atlantic Laboratories, 224 Main Street, Port Royal VA 22535, 540.775.7775
  • Air, Water and Soil Laboratories, 1941 Reymet Rd. Richmond, VA 23237, 804.358.8295
  • EnviroCompliance Laboratories, 10357 Old Keeton Rd., Ashland, VA 23005, 804.550.3971

If you are concerned with the results of tests you have had completed or are considering replacement of your portion of the service line, please contact Virginia American Water at 1.800.452.6863 (toll-free).  Virginia American Water will work with you to understand and investigate the possible factors impacting the results.  

Homeowners and business who are replacing their portion of the service line should coordinate their work with Virginia American Water.

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