Frequently Asked Questions

Drinking Water in Virginia
Sampling and Testing for Lead 

In response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, federal and state governments are increasing their oversight of monitoring lead levels in drinking water. The Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water (ODW) is working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and with Virginia’s water service providers to assure Virginians have safe drinking water.

Could a toxic lead drinking water situation happen where I live?
People everywhere are asking this question in response to the Flint, Michigan, water quality crisis.  When water pipes, plumbing, or connections to water systems made from lead wear down (corrode), there is a risk that lead could enter the drinking water.  Lead pipes may be present in a water system or in your home.

How does lead get into drinking water?
Lead can enter drinking water when water pipes or water service connections that contain lead wear down (corrode).  Corrosion is more likely when the make-up of the water has a lower pH or a low mineral content.  One of the most common problems occurs with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder (the material that joins metal pieces together).  Lead can enter the water from these sources, especially when hot water is used.

If water pipes, plumbing or connections to water systems that contain lead corrode, a number of factors play a role in whether lead will enter the water, and if it does, how much lead enters.

These factors include:

  • The pH of the water
  • Type of minerals in the water
  • Temperature of the water
  • How long the water sits in pipes
  • Whether protective coatings (“scales”) line the water pipes

How can I find out if my home’s water pipes and fixtures contain lead?
Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. To find out if your home’s water pipes and fixtures contain lead, contact a plumber.

How can I reduce the risk of lead in the tap water at my home?
Flush your water pipes before drinking: “Flush” your pipes by running cold water until it becomes as cold as it will get. This could take as little as 30 seconds or 2 minutes or longer. This step is especially important when water from that faucet has not been used for 6 hours or more.

Only use cold water for eating and drinking: Use cold water for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Run cold water until it becomes as cold as it can get before you use it.

Use water filters or treatment devices: Many water filters and treatment devices are certified to reduce lead in drinking water. A list of filters and treatment devices that have been certified to reduce lead can be found here: NSF International Certified Lead Filtration Devices.

Contact your water service provider: Using the contact information on your water bill, ask your water service provider for a copy of its annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). This report includes water quality details. In addition, be alert for any notices about water quality from your water service provider.

Will boiling water get rid of lead?
No, boiling water will NOT get rid of lead contamination.

Can I shower in lead-contaminated water?
In most situations, bathing and showering is safe for you and your children, even if the water contains lead. Human skin does not absorb lead in water. Check with your water service provider for recommendations specific to your water supply.

How can I get my water tested for lead?
You can send a sample of your drinking water to a private laboratory for testing. Consult the Virginia Department of General Services, Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, for a list of accredited laboratories. If your drinking water comes from a private well, the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Virginia Household Water Quality Program has information on how to get your well water tested.

What are the possible health effects of exposure to lead in drinking water?
Of most concern is that infants and children who drink water that contains high levels of lead have more risk of having delays in their physical or mental development. Children could also develop learning problems.  Adults who drink water contaminated with lead over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure. The EPA website has more detailed information on possible health effects.

Does Virginia have regulations limiting lead in drinking water?
Yes, Virginia’s Waterworks Regulations set levels for lead and other contaminants in drinking water. Virginia’s regulations are consistent with the requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).

How do water service providers monitor lead levels in drinking water?
Water service providers are required to monitor for lead levels in drinking water. Water samples are collected from customers’ water taps, and the locations to monitor are based on homes and buildings that are at high risk from aging plumbing and materials.  The number of samples collected is based on the number of customers served by the water service provider. Water samples are collected and analyzed every 6 months, unless the water service provider has qualified for reduced monitoring.

What happens if a waterworks has an elevated lead level?
The drinking water “action level” for lead is 0.015 mg/L (milligrams per liter) or 15 ppb (parts per billion).   If a water service provider exceeds the lead “action level,” they have to meet specific requirements in the Waterworks Regulations.  These can include: additional water quality monitoring, corrosion control treatment, source water monitoring and/or treatment, public education, and/or lead service line replacement.

Who regulates drinking water in Virginia?
The Virginia Department of Health implements and enforces the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in Virginia.  Virginia’s Public Water Supplies Law and Waterworks Regulations spell out how this is done. The law and regulations apply to public water systems, including city (municipal) and county water systems. The VDH Office of Drinking Water (ODW) regularly monitors these water systems.

What is the Lead and Copper Rule?
The Environmental Protection Agency issued the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). It requires monitoring public water systems for lead and has requirements for taking action to reduce lead levels if it is elevated in drinking water.

Who do I contact if I need more information?
Contact the Virginia Department of Health Office of Drinking Water regional field office that serves your area.

What if my drinking water comes from a private well?
Information about drinking water from private wells is available at these websites:

How can I learn more about my tap water and lead?
Check out the CDC webpage about drinking water and lead at cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm.

VDH Communication with State and Federal Partners

Letter sent to Commissioner Levine from EPA regarding Lead in Drinking Water

Letter sent to EPA from Commissioner Levine regarding ODW’s implementation of the requested short-term actions