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Lead and Copper Testing for Drinking Water

What is the Michigan Lead and Copper testing method?

The Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, revised in 2018, is the most stringent in the nation. It changed the way lead samples are collected at Detroit homes and all Michigan communities. In the past, DWSD collected only the first liter of water out of the tap. Under the revised rule – used in testing in the past three years – both the first and fifth liter are collected. The first liter represents water from household plumbing and fixtures, and the fifth liter is more likely to represent water from the lead service line. The service line is the pipe which brings water from the water main in the street to inside the home or business. In Detroit, most service lines are either lead, copper or galvanized steel. Lead service lines are under two inches in diameter and are mostly at single family or duplex homes. The new sampling technique more accurately represents the range of lead in the drinking water in Detroit homes.

Where is lead encountered in the drinking water?

The water leaving Detroit water treatment plants, operated by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), does not contain lead, but lead can be released into drinking water from lead service lines and home plumbing as the water moves from the water mains to your tap. Beginning in 1945, Detroit stopped allowing the installation of lead piping for water service lines. Homes before 1945 are most likely to have a lead pipe that connects the home to the water main, known as a lead service line. The lead in lead service lines, household plumbing and fixtures can dissolve or break off into water and end up in tap water. The water provided to DWSD customers contains a corrosion inhibitor to reduce leaching from lead service lines and other lead components, but lead can still be present in water at the tap.

What are the health effects of lead?

Lead can cause serious health and development problems. The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children, and pregnant women. Older homes can have many sources of lead exposure including paint, dust and soil. If you have questions about other sources of lead exposure, please contact the Detroit Health Department at 313-876-0133.

What are the sources of lead?

Drinking water is only one source of lead exposure. Some of the most significant sources, especially for children six years old and under, include lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust and soil. Because lead can be carried on hands, clothing, and shoes, sources of exposure to lead can include the workplace and certain hobbies. Wash your children’s hands and toys often as they can come in contact with dirt and dust containing lead. In addition, lead can be found in certain types of pottery, pewter, food and cosmetics. If you have questions about other sources of lead exposure, please contact the health department.

Most plumbing products such as service lines, pipes and fixtures contain lead. The infographic below demonstrates where sources of lead in drinking water could be in your home. Older homes may have more lead unless the service line and/or plumbing has been replaced. Lead-based solder and lead-based fittings and

fixtures are still available in stores to use for non-drinking water applications. Be careful to select the appropriate products for repairing or replacing drinking water plumbing in your home. Even materials currently marked “lead free” have up to 0.25% lead by weight.

Galvanized plumbing can be a potential source of lead. Galvanized plumbing can absorb lead from upstream sources like a lead service line. Even after the lead service line has been removed, galvanized plumbing can continue to release lead into drinking water over time. Homes that are served by a lead service line should consider replacing galvanized plumbing inside the home.


Source: EPA

What is DWSD doing to replace lead service lines?

In 2018, prior to the revised Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, DWSD began replacing lead service lines as part of its asset management program when on the same street replacing the water main. Extensive outreach, including neighborhood meetings and information packets, to the owner/occupant is done prior to construction. The city owns the portion of the service line from the water main to the stopbox (turn-on/off valve typically in the front yard). The property owner is responsible for the service line from the stopbox to inside the house. Therefore, DWSD gets owner/occupant permission to replace lead service lines when its crews encounter them after visually verifying service line material at each house by excavating around the stopbox during scheduled water main replacement. With owner/occupant permission, the lead service line is replaced with copper at DWSD’s expense through its Capital Improvement Program. 

What steps can I take to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water?
  • Run your water to flush out lead. The more time water has been sitting in your home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. Therefore, if your water has not been used for several hours, run the water before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes lead-containing water from the pipes. If you do not have a lead service line, run the water for 30 seconds to two minutes, or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature. If you do have a lead service line, run the water for at least five minutes to flush water from both the interior building plumbing and the lead service line. 
  • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
  • Use only filtered water or bottled water for preparing baby formula.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead levels. In the event DWSD issues a boil water advisory due to low water pressure (such as caused by a large water main break), water users in the designated advisory area will be advised to boil water before using for cooking, drinking and brushing your teeth. Residents with lead service lines should only boil filtered water — not water directly from the tap.
  • Consider using a filter to reduce lead in drinking water. The Detroit Health Department recommends that any household with a child or pregnant woman use a certified lead filter to reduce lead from their drinking water. Look for filters that are tested and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for lead reduction. 


Some filter options include a pour-through pitcher or faucet-mount systems. If the label does not specifically mention lead reduction, check the Performance Data Sheet included with the device. Be sure to maintain and replace the filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to protect water quality. 

  • Get your child tested. Contact the Detroit Health Department at 313-876-0133 or your healthcare provider to find out how you can get your child tested for lead if you are concerned about exposure.
  • Identify older plumbing fixtures that likely contain lead. Older faucets, fittings, and valves sold before 2014 may contain higher levels of lead, even if marked “lead-free.” Faucets, fittings, and valves sold after January 2014 are required to meet a more restrictive “lead-free” definition but may still contain up to 0.25 percent lead. When purchasing new plumbing materials, it is important to look for materials that are certified to meet NSF standard 61. 
  • Clean your aerator. The aerator on the end of your faucet is a screen that will catch debris. This debris could include particulate lead. The aerator should be removed monthly to rinse out any debris.
  • Test your water for lead. To request for your water to be tested, please visit www.detroitmi.gov/leadsafe and search “lead and copper sample request form.” If you do not have Internet access, please call the Detroit Lead Safe Resource Line at 313-267-8000 and press option 7 for further assistance.

Additional information regarding lead, including “Frequently Asked Questions about Lead in Drinking Water” can be found on the City of Detroit’s website at www.detroitmi.gov/leadsafe or visit EGLE’s website at www.michigan.gov/MILeadSafe.