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Lead Information

Dear Customers and Stakeholders,

Media coverage of water quality issues in Flint, MI has raised public concerns over lead. The primary cause of the water quality concerns in Flint appears to have been a failure to maintain corrosion control – a basic principle of water delivery after disinfection and treatment. We pride ourselves on being a model utility in lead abatement. 

Here is how:

    • All known lead pipes and service lines were removed from the San Francisco retail service area in the 1980s.
    • We regularly sample tap water from homes (in adherence with the Lead & Copper Rule, one of the US EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations) and results are consistently below action levels.
    • We discontinued the use of lead joints in our distribution system.
    • Sometimes minor fittings or joints with some lead materials are discovered in older parts of our system; when discovered they are replaced.
    • Our excellent corrosion control practices eliminate any exposure to these minor lead surfaces.

If you are concerned about older plumbing fixtures in your home, we encourage you to replace them with lead-free fixtures. You can also request a low-cost water quality test by filling out the Lead Analysis Application.

We are proud to provide you with clean, reliable water. We test your water almost 100,000 times each year! Interested in more details about water quality? Check out our latest Water Quality Report at sfwater.org/qualitymatters.

Sincerely,
Harlan L. Kelly, Jr.
General Manager

Lead Analysis
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What is lead and how is it used?
Lead is a metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other elements. It is sometimes used in household plumbing materials or in water service lines used to bring water from the main to the home.  See how to identify and purchase lead-free faucets.

The EPA regulates lead in drinking water
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water which do or may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) Goals, which are set at zero because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any potential health problems. 

How will lead be detected in and removed from my drinking water?
In San Francisco there are no known lead service lines in the distribution system; however, if a lead service line is found, it is quickly removed.  All tests for lead content in the distribution system result in non-detects.  It is possible that lead levels detected at your tap may be higher due to differences in plumbing materials.

Lead contamination generally occurs from corrosion of household lead pipes. Our corrosion control treatment consists of maintaining alkaline water pH (above neutral) throughout our distribution system. Our corrosion control approach has been reaffirmed by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) adopted EPA's Action Level for Lead (Pb), which is 15 μg/L.LCR requires at least 90% of Pb tap samples collected from participants' taps not to exceed the Action Level.The LCR is a Treatment Technique regulation. Monitoring results are used by the SWRCB to determine if additional studies are needed to improve corrosion control treatment. The summary report of this monitoring can be found here. In addition you can see results of Lead Samples collected in 2009, 2012 and 2015 from the San Francisco Water System here.

Have your water tested for lead
San Francisco residents may request a sampling kit and analysis for a small fee ($25.00) by calling 311.  WIC participants can request a free lead test.  This tap water sampling is conducted by the resident according to lead and copper sampling protocol provided by the SFPUC.  We will pick up the collected sample, conduct analysis and provide results to the resident.

Please complete the Lead Analysis Application and send it along with payment to:

SFPUC Water Quality Division
Environmental Services Section
Attn: Lead Program Coordinator
1657 Rollins Road
Burlingame, CA 94010

Reducing potential lead exposure from drinking water
When your water has been sitting for several hours (or overnight), you can flush your cold water tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using the water. Certified filters would also reduce any potential lead exposure from drinking water.

What are the health effects?
If consumed, lead may have multiple adverse effects on the human body. Pregnant women and children under the age of seven are most vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead.

How much lead is produced and released to the environment?
Lead may occur in drinking water either by contamination of the source water used by the water system, or by corrosion of lead plumbing or fixtures. Corrosion of plumbing is by far the greatest cause for concern. All water is corrosive to metal plumbing materials to some degree. Grounding of household electrical systems to plumbing may also exacerbate corrosion. Over time, lead-containing plumbing materials will usually develop a scale that minimizes further corrosion of the pipe. 

What happens to lead when it is released to the environment?
When released to land, lead binds to soils and does not migrate to ground water. In water, it binds to sediments. It does not accumulate in fish, but does in some shellfish, such as mussels.

Learn more about your drinking water!
The EPA strongly encourages people to learn more about their drinking water, and to support local efforts to protect and upgrade the supply of safe drinking water. Your water bill and annual Water Quality Report are good starting points. 

For information on drinking water in general, call: EPAs Safe Drinking Water Hotline: (800) 424-5323.

Last updated: 8/11/2016 4:11:48 PM