Getting the Lead Out

How to Find Out If You Have Lead Pipes and What To Do If You Do

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To learn if your household has a lead water service pipe, you’ll first need to understand a few basic concepts. Public space pipe and private space pipe (pipes that you, the homeowner, are responsible for) are depicted in the diagram below. Credit: DC Water

Lead water pipes leach microscopic amounts of lead into water, causing health issues, especially in children, pregnant women, and pets. According to DC Water, there are some 30,000 lead service pipes in the District: 10,000 located on public space and 20,000 on private property. Lead Free DC was initiated in 2019 with a goal of replacing all District lead water service pipes by 2030.  The program includes discounted (and sometimes free) lead line replacement for DC residents.

The DC Water Service Line Map is a great tool for determining if you have lead water pipes leading to your home. Credit: DC Water

To determine if your service pipe is a source of lead:

  • Test your water through an independent lab or get a free lead testing kit from DC Water. You’ll receive the results in about six weeks.
  • On the DC Water Service Line Map at https://geo.dcwater.com/Lead/, enter your address to see if there are lead service lines on your property, on District (public) property, both, neither, or if there’s no available information. A snapshot of Capitol Hill gives a sense of the prevalence of lead pipes: green indicates no lead pipes, gray indicates lead, and white indicates where no information is available.

Options If You Have Lead Pipes

DC Water regularly replaces lead service pipes in conjunction with other projects across the District, and this program is being expanded under Lead Free DC.  This year, DC Water launched 150 projects across the District, replacing lead pipes for free–regardless of income, and plans to ramp up even more. Visit dcwater.com/lead-free-dc-construction-dashboard for an up-to-date look at current and planned projects. Homeowners are notified at least four months in advance of planned work.

If there are no capital improvement projects planned on your street, and you have lead pipes on your property but non-lead pipe in the public space (green/gray circle on map), you can apply for the DC Department of Energy and the Environment’s (DOEE) Lead Pipe Replacement Assistance Program (LPRAP) that uses District funds to cover 50% of the lead pipe replacement cost regardless of income. Some residents will qualify for 100% coverage.

If both the public and private portions of the water service line are lead (gray/gray circle on map), and no capital improvement projects are planned for your neighborhood, you can enroll in the Voluntary Replacement Program where you, the homeowner, pay for work on private property. DC Water will pay for all public space work and coordinate with you to ensure both portions are replaced at the same time.

DC Water’s Map may indicate that the type of pipe in either the public space, private property, or both is unknown.  In that case, regardless of the program you select, DC Water contractors will dig a 4-6 foot hole in your yard to determine what sort of pipes you have and replace any lead pipe.  They’ll also need to dig holes to place any lead pipe, so hold off on redoing that landscaping until after any lead pipe replacement activity happens!

John Deignan, Program Manager for Lead Replacement at DC Water notes, “The average cost of lead pipe replacement is approximately $200 per linear foot.  That comes out to $3000-$3500 for the average homeowner depending on the length of pipe to be replaced, and the installation of the new water connection into the house. The discounts we provide through both our District-funded lead assistance programs reduce those costs significantly. To date customers have saved $4.5 million in private-side costs with these programs”.

The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1986 banned the use of lead water pipes and solder containing lead, but half of all owner-occupied houses in the District of Columbia were built more than 79 years ago. While removing lead water pipes is the right thing to do to ensure your family’s health, it’s also an important when selling or leasing your home. The Lead Water Service Line Replacement and Disclosure Amendment Act of 2018 requires that any lead pipes and the results of any lead testing are disclosed to tenants or potential home buyers.

John Lisle, DC Water Vice President of Marketing and Communications notes, “Since the start of the Lead Free DC program in October 2019, DC Water has replaced over 2700 lead pipes across the District. That’s about 22 miles of pipe. As more and more residents sign up to have their lead service lines replaced, we’re confident we will meet that 2030 goal of a lead free DC!”

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, an urban homesteader, writer, and active member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club and its Executive Committee. Perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.