Lead Safe Durham

what to know about lead in drinking water

...and how we are ensuring a Lead Safe Durham

Since the early 1990s, public water providers like Durham Water have been treating and testing our drinking water to protect the public from lead and copper exposure in drinking water. In 2021, the Lead and Copper Rule was revised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to further ensure that our drinking water remains lead safe.

Protecting public health will always be Durham Water Management’s number one mission. The water leaving Durham’s two water treatment plants does not contain lead. This is confirmed with weekly testing. But it is possible for lead to enter drinking water from corrosion of lead service lines and plumbing materials. Our current corrosion control program – the addition of zinc orthophosphate – is effective in preventing lead in pipes and plumbing materials from getting into drinking water. Our regular testing of drinking water in residents’ homes confirms this.

In 2021, the EPA revised the Lead and Copper Rule to provide an improved level of public health protection when it is slated to go into effect in 2024. The changes focus on identifying and removing lead service lines, providing increased levels of protection from lead exposure in drinking water to children at schools and childcare facilities, and providing information about lead in drinking water to the community.

Basic Lead Information

Lead is a common, natural metal that is found throughout the environment; however it rarely occurs naturally in surface water supplies such as lakes and rivers. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of corrosion of materials containing lead used in household plumbing. This is particularly the case with older homes. Piping containing lead is likely to be found only in homes built before 1930. Copper piping took the place of lead piping, but lead based solder was still used until banned by North Carolina in 1985. Brass materials, containing less than 0.25% lead, are now used in almost 100% of all residential, commercial, and municipal water distribution systems. This action has significantly reduced the incidence of lead in drinking water.

The city has taken additional steps to reduce the leaching of lead into tap water by adding a corrosion inhibitor to drinking water. This effective corrosion control program has been in place since the 1970s.

Lead may dissolve into tap water when it stands for periods of several hours in the plumbing of some older homes. These are homes that have copper pipes with lead solder, lead pipes, or lead service lines. 

Here's an example of how services lines come from the water main into the house.

Graphic that shows the public and private side of a customer's waterline.

Why is lead in water concerning?

If present, elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. 

Regular Customer Testing

The City of Durham is required to test for lead and copper every 3 years. Durham maintains a sampling pool of more than 200 homes throughout Durham which were constructed between 1983 and 1985 for testing every three years. During a testing year, samples are collected from the volunteer pool and analyzed to ensure on-going compliance with established levels. In these sampling events, a first draw sample is collected after the water has stood unused in the plumbing for at least 6 hours - usually overnight.

The latest analysis in 2022 showed lead and copper levels to be well under action levels. In the overwhelming majority of samples, there was no lead detected at all.

Tips to Reduce Your Potential Exposure to Lead in Your Drinking Water

Customers can reduce or eliminate the chance of lead exposure in tap water by following these guidelines:

  • Run cold water from your tap for about 5 minutes before using it for drinking or cooking any time the water in the faucet has gone unused for more than 6 hours.
  • Flush each faucet individually. To conserve water, use the flushed water for non-consumption purposes such as watering plants or washing dishes. Fill a few bottles of water after the tap has been flushed to avoid having to flush the taps daily.
  • Use cold water for cooking and drinking (and making baby formula). Hot water dissolves lead more quickly than cold water. Never use hot tap water to make baby formula or cereal; draw cold water from the tap and heat it on the stove or in the microwave.
  • Periodically remove loose debris from the plumbing materials by removing the faucet strainers and aerators from all taps and running the water for 3 to 5 minutes. 
  • Use filters. Consider using a water filter. Be sure the filter is approved to reduce lead (NSF 53-certified); visit www.nsf.org for information on the appropriate water filters.

Having Your Tap Water Tested

If you are a City of Durham water customer, your home was built before 1986, and you are concerned there may be lead in your home's plumbing, you can request to have your water tested for lead. To request a free sample kit, contact Durham One Call at 919-560-1200.

After completing the necessary request form, you may then pick up your sample kit (available three business days after completing the form) at one of two locations: our Compliance Services Building at 6605 Farrington Road, or our Mist Lake Facility at 1600 Mist Lake Drive. Kits will be available for pick-up Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Customers should complete a request form and provide the required information so that appropriate labels and associated paperwork can be prepared and made ready. After collecting samples, customers should return them to either WRF as soon as possible for analysis.

For more information on lead in drinking water, visit the EPA’s Ground Water and Drinking Water website