City making progress on lead pipe replacement, but still has a ways to go

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Right now, one in three water lines in the city of Rochester is made out of lead.

That’s a step up from when the City began a replacement project in 2018.

“I won’t say it’s not important, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it right now because we’ve already got a system of tools in place to take care of it, right? I see a light at the end of that tunnel,” Dave Rowley, manager of water production for the City of Rochester.

When the project started, nearly half the city’s 60,000 service lines were made from lead.

The service line is the pipe that starts in your house or business and goes to the water main underneath your street. It’s on both public property, and private.

Project Manager Nick Wynne says on the public side, “the City has great records for the portion of the service line that’s within the city, right away from the water main to the street up to a shutoff that’s usually on the sidewalk.”

So what does that mean for your drinking water?

Engineers have been going street by street, replacing lead pipes with polyethylene instead. The plastic is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But each pipe takes a lot of time, preparation, and money to replace.

In the meantime, are lead pipes safe to use?

Rowley says “yes” – with certain risk reductions. Those include using cold water, and getting a water filter.

“I encourage people, don’t obsess about it. If you want to know how much lead you have, we’re happy to use a lead test for you. But these steps – I’ve got mountains of data to show that if you take these steps, you’re not at risk,” he said.

Rowley says this is only a real problem when the water has a chance to sit in the pipes for a long time, like overnight.

The EPA says there is no safe amount of lead to consume, but the EPA has a maximum of 15 parts per billion for public drinking water and regular testing shows Rochester below that.

Even so, Rochester has a goal to be lead-free by 2030.

You can find out if your service line has lead two ways. The first is through the city property information site.

If the information isn’t there, go into your basement and put a magnet on your water pipe. If it sticks, your pipes are safe. If it doesn’t, they’re either copper, lead or plastic.

Scratch the pipe – and if you get a shiny silver line, you’ve got lead.

If you’ve got lead pipes, Rowley says there are four things you can do to almost completely remove lead from your water.

  1. Use cold water. Hot water dissolves lead faster.
  2. Let the water run for a few minutes if you haven’t used your faucet in a few hours. This is called flushing your pipes.
  3. Clean out the screen on your faucet, which can trap particles.
  4. Use a water filter that’s NSF-certified to remove lead, like a Brita. The City’s water department will give you one for free.