Lead and Drinking Water Quality

The City of St. Louis Water Division has optimized its treatment process so that the corrosion of internal plumbing is highly unlikely. This treatment prevents The City of Saint Louis from experiencing a lead crisis that has been seen in other American cities. However, if present, elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems.

Exposure to lead in drinking water can cause serious health effects in all age groups. Infants and children can have decreases in IQ and attention span. Lead exposure can lead to new learning and behavior problems or exacerbate existing learning and behavior problems. The children of women who are exposed to lead before or during pregnancy can have increased risk of these adverse health effects. Adults can have increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or nervous system problems.

Lead in drinking water is primarily from materials and components associated with water service lines and home plumbing. While there are no lead water mains, the City Water Division cannot control the variety of materials that property owners use in plumbing components. There are three major ways lead can get into water:

  1. When water sits over time in plumbing and fixtures made from lead
  2. When pieces of lead plumbing or solder break off inside drinking water pipes
  3. When pipes and fixtures are disturbed while making repairs or renovations
City of St. Louis water is treated to make it safer for homes that have lead plumbing, but there is always a risk of lead getting into water when you have lead in your plumbing.

When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking. If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline (Phone: 800-426-4791) or at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/lead.

Monitoring for Lead in The City of Saint Louis' Drinking Water

The City of Saint Louis’ water supply is carefully monitored to make sure that residents are protected from lead that could be found in drinking water. The Water Division is required by law to routinely test drinking water from homes with lead service lines to ensure that corrosion control treatment strategy is effectively working.

Lead Pipes in Your Home

The Water Division is responsible for the treatment and distribution of safe drinking water within our network of underground water mains. Once the water flows from the water main in the street to our customers’ service connections, it’s safe delivery becomes the customer’s responsibility. As the service line is owned and maintained by the property owner, it is their responsibility to repair faulty plumbing that connects the water mains to the home as well as the plumbing inside the home.

There are homes in the City of Saint Louis that may have a water service line (the pipe running from the water main to the home) that is made of lead. Inferior plumbing and fixtures inside the home may also contain lead. Replacing an older brass faucet or valve may be a simple way to reduce the lead.

The following Diagram illustrates a typical water service from water main to home:

Lateral Connection Illustration

To find out if your water service line is made of lead, follow these steps or use the How-To Identify Your Service Line Material Guide (PDF): How-To Identify Your Water Service Line Material.pdf

  1. Find the water shut-off valve in your basement. Look at the pipe that comes through the outside wall of your home and connects to your home’s shut-off valve.
  2. If the pipe is painted, use sandpaper to expose the metal. Carefully scratch the metal pipe (like you would a lottery ticket) with a key or a coin. Do not use a knife or other sharp tool. Take care not to make a hole in the pipe. If the scratch turns a shiny silver color, it could be lead or steel.
  3. To determine if the pipe is lead or steel, get a strong refrigerator magnet. Place the magnet on the pipe. If a magnet sticks, it is a steel pipe.
  4. You can also buy a lead test kit at a hardware or home improvement store. These kits are used to test what the pipe is made from—not the water inside. Look for an EPA-recognized kit.

What If I Have Lead Pipes?

Having a lead service line does not mean your home’s water has high levels of lead. Corrosion control treatment, performed in The City of Saint Louis for more than 20 years, has been shown to be effective in keeping lead levels in customers' homes below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard of fifteen parts per billion (15ppb).

In addition to replacing lead pipes and plumbing, there are immediate steps you can take to reduce the chances of lead exposure related to water use, such as flushing your tap when using it for drinking or cooking if your water has been sitting idle for several hours.

Get Your Water Tested

The Water Division conducts regular sampling and testing of lead service lines. To volunteer for our lead sampling and testing program, please email lcrsamples@stlwater.com

Report A Lead Service Line in Your Home

The Water Division is currently updating inventory records of all service lines. If you would like to report your service line material type, please follow this How-To Guide to help determine if you have a lead service line. To report your service line material type, please Click HERE.