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Lead and Copper in Tap Water
September 2010

Lead and Copper in Tap Water and Health
Common plumbing materials can contain lead and copper, which are both metals. As the plumbing materials get old and corrode, lead and copper can get into the drinking water. Both metals are toxic. Lead can cause damage to the nervous system and learning disabilities, especially in children. Lead in water can be a serious problem for infants, who mostly ingest liquids, such as baby formulas or canned juices mixed with water. Copper is an essential trace nutrient, but high levels can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Testing for Lead and Copper in Tap Water
picture of water faucetIn St. Paul, lead water pipes may exist in homes built before 1926 and in some homes built during World War II, when other metals were scarce. Copper in drinking water can be a concern in homes containing copper pipes, which are very common. To protect the public from drinking water that contains too much lead and copper, EPA requires city water departments to test the tap water annually from several of the homes or businesses that get water from the city. The amounts of lead and copper in these samples may tell us something about the condition of plumbing in residential and commercial buildings across the city or city water mains.

What the Information Shows
This count includes information collected by St. Paul Regional Water Services. St. Paul Regional Water Services collects water samples from homes or businesses throughout the City each year to check on lead and copper levels.

In 2008, St. Paul Regional Water Services tested 52 homes for lead and copper citywide. Lead was detected at 32 homes at an average concentration of 11 parts per billion (ppb), although this average was skewed by one very high result. Four of the 32 homes exceeded the EPA action level of 15 ppb. Copper was detected in 26 out of 52 homes, averaging 44 ppb, well below the EPA action level of 1,300 ppb.

In the Central Corridor project area, four homes were tested for lead and copper. All four had detections of lead, at an average level of 9.5 ppb, and one exceeded the action level of 15 ppb. Copper levels averaged 32 ppb in the four homes.

Limitations
This information is collected as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. It does not give an accurate picture of every house in the City. Some homes could have higher (or lower) amounts of copper and lead in the drinking water. The City and MDH encourage people to

  • test their own water if they are concerned,
  • use cold water for drinking and cooking (cold water is less likely to leach lead), and
  • let the water run for 2-3 minutes to flush the pipes before drinking it.

Continuing the yearly sampling program will ensure that water provided by St. Paul Regional Water Services meets federal standards and that the prevalence of homes with high amounts of copper or lead is known so that the plumbing can be fixed

Printable information sheet, with map: Lead and Copper in Tap Water (PDF: 113KB/2 pages)

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Updated Friday, April 05, 2013 at 10:14AM