Lead Questions & Answers
Water quality and the protection of public health are Medford Water Commission’s top priorities. The ongoing lead issues for customers in Flint, Michigan highlight the need for water systems across the nation to take reducing lead exposure seriously.
Medford Water Commission is in compliance with all Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Our latest round of lead and copper testing results from 2016 can be found here. However, there is an opportunity to make further improvements to preserve the community’s high quality water all the way to the tap.
Medford Water Commission is taking a multi-pronged approach to preserving the community’s high quality water. Steps include removing lead pipe “pigtails” installed in the early 1900s – those efforts are described on this page. Medford Water Commission is also conducting a Water Quality and Corrosion Study to evaluate treatment options that can reduce the water’s tendency to release metals from service lines and household plumbing. For more information on that study, click here.
How does lead get into drinking water?
There is virtually no lead in our two water supply sources, the Big Butte Springs and the Rogue River. Rather, lead leaches into water over time through corrosion—a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and pipes. Lead can leach into water from pipes, solder, fixtures, faucets and fittings. The amount of lead in your water depends on a variety of factors. These include the type and amounts of minerals in the water, the type of pipes the water comes in contact with, how long the water stays in the pipes, the water’s corrosivity, and water temperature.
Unlike in Flint, lead service lines were not used extensively within Medford’s distribution system and Medford Water Commission’s system fully complies with state and federal rules regarding lead. However, short lead pipes known as “pigtails” exist within our system. It has been our longstanding policy to remove these lead pigtails as they were found, and in June 2016, Medford Water Commission launched an extensive effort to track down and remove any lead lines that remain within our system.
What is a lead pigtail?
In the early 1900s, short pieces of lead pipe were sometimes used to connect the water main to customers’ service lines. These lead pipes could be easily bent and allowed for a flexible connection between the rigid pipes. For many years, the Medford Water Commission has removed lead pigtails whenever they were found in our system. However, because of the age of these service lines, we simply do not have records of where lead pigtails were installed. Since the pigtails are buried underground near the main, it’s challenging to confirm where they remain in our system.
Pigtail search: By the numbers
Search began June 20, 2016
Current as of Jan. 18th, 2017
|Meter boxes investigated
|Services on list to pothole
|Lead pigtails found
|Lead pigtails removed
In June 2016, Medford Water Commission crews began investigating all meter boxes served by water mains installed before 1946 (Click here to see a map). We believe lead pipes were not used in our system after World War II, and the pigtails we’ve found so far in this investigation date to the early 1900s.
What are we doing to find the lead pigtails?
While we can’t see lead pipes at the meter box, our experience indicates that the lead pigtails in our system are usually connected to galvanized pipes. Our crews are checking each meter box within the search area to see whether the service line is a galvanized or copper pipe. Sometimes this process requires some digging.
If we find a galvanized pipe at the meter box, we are notifying customers that they could have a lead service line and we will be investigating further. The next step is to "pothole," or dig a hole in the street where the service line connects to the meter, enabling us to see whether there is a lead pigtail underground. If we find a lead pigtail, MWC will offer to test the customer’s water for lead and then we’ll replace the lead with a new copper service line. Click here for lead testing results.
I was told (or thought) that my water meter service was checked and okay. Now I have a blue door hanger telling me I'm "flagged for further investigation"; what gives?
In our initial round of investigation, the first priority was to look for galvanized pipe suppling water to the water meter, as that is the most likely type of connection to have a lead pigtail. Now we are checking other types of connections needing further examination. We are investigating all options that may reveal a lead pigtail in the service line.
Is Medford’s water tested for lead?
Yes. The Medford Water Commission fully complies with all state and federal regulations for lead and copper testing. The EPA Lead and Copper Rule requires MWC to test for lead every three years at 30 homes built in the early 1980s. These homes were designated as being at risk for lead in water because they were among the last homes constructed using lead solder to join copper pipes.
Under the Lead and Copper Rule, if 10 percent of water samples return lead levels of over 15 parts per billion, a water provider is required to take certain actions to reduce lead exposure. As required under federal rules, the water samples tested are the “first draw” of water after no water use has occurred for at least six hours.
In 2013, the most recent year we tested, the 90th percentile value in Medford was 1.4 ppb and no samples exceeded the action level. These results are similar to findings from previous tests. Testing is scheduled for August 2016.
What are the potential risks of lead exposure?
Lead can be harmful to humans when ingested or inhaled.
Lead has been shown to cause delays in physical and mental development in babies and young children.
Pregnant women are at particular risk for lead exposure.
Children age 6 and younger are very susceptible to the effects of lead.
Long-term exposure to lead can affect blood pressure and kidney function.
How can I be exposed to lead?
As the use of lead in various products has been phased out, our exposure to lead has greatly declined. Leaded gasoline, once a huge source of lead exposure, was phased out by 1995. Today, the Oregon Health Authority says the state’s most common source of lead exposure is from paint chips and dust in homes and buildings built before 1978. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978.
Lead also can be found in some household plumbing materials and some water service lines. The EPA estimates that 10 to 20 percent of human exposure to lead may come from lead in drinking water. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
Is the water in my home at risk for lead
Lead levels in your drinking water are likely to be highest if:
Your home has faucets or fittings of brass, which contains some lead.
Your home was built before 1986 and has copper pipes with lead solder.
Your home has a lead service line that connects the water main (located under the street) to your home’s internal plumbing.
I’m concerned my home may have lead plumbing. How can I find out?
Testing is the only way to confirm if lead is present or absent. If you’re concerned that your home plumbing may contain lead pipes (lead is a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key) or if you see signs of corrosion (frequent leaks, rust-colored water), you may want to have your water tested by a state-certified laboratory.
How can I reduce my exposure to lead in my drinking water?
There are many steps you can take to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water, but if you have lead service lines, the best step you can take is to have them replaced. In addition:
Run your water to flush out lead. If water has not been used for several hours, such as in the morning or after returning from work or school, run taps for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, or until it becomes colder, before cooking or drinking. This will flush water that has been sitting in pipes. (Conservation tip: If you run sprinklers, wash a load of laundry or shower first, you will not need to run the tap as long. Or, consider catching the flushed tap water for plants or some other household use such as cleaning.)
Periodically remove and clean the faucet screen/aerator. Particles containing lead from solder or household plumbing can become trapped in your faucet aerator. Occasional cleaning will remove these particles and reduce your exposure to lead.
Always use cold water for cooking and drinking. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water, so don’t use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula, or for cooking or drinking.
Consider buying low-lead faucets. As of January 2014, all pipes, fittings and fixtures are required to contain less than 0.25% lead, which is termed “lead-free.” In addition to seeking out products with the lowest lead content, fixtures with the WaterSense label will maximize water savings.
Consider investing in a filter. Before you buy, confirm the filter reduces lead – not all filters do. Remember that bacteria and other contaminants can collect in filters if not properly maintained, making water quality worse, not better. For water filter performance standards, contact NSF International at 1-800-673-8010.
Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
Medford Water Commission: 541-774-2430
Read our Consumer Confidence Report and learn more about the Water Quality and Corrosion Study.
Jackson County Health Department Environmental Public Health: 541-774-8206
Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Program: 971-673-0405
EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline: 1-800-426-4791
National Lead Information Center: 1-800-424-LEAD