Looking at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s (BWSC) Lead Service Map East Boston residents would be shocked to see how many old lead pipes still enter homes across the neighborhood and bring in drinking water. The map, which can be found at https://www.bwsc.org/environment-education/maproom/lead-service-map, allows users to search for specific properties in Eastie that are known or suspected to have a private lead service line.
The map is dotted with hundreds of Eastie homes that still have private lead service lines that connect to the BWSC main water lines in the street. At the source of supply, Eastie’s drinking water, which is provided by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), is lead-free when it leaves the reservoirs. Neither MWRA’s, nor the BWSC’s water distribution mains contain lead.
Lead can enter the drinking water when the water remains unused for long periods of time and water service pipes and household plumbing containing lead dissolve into the water. Excessive amounts of lead in the body can cause serious adverse health effects including damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys. The greatest risk is to infants and young children, whose physical growth and mental development can be impaired by lead contamination.
Also vulnerable are pregnant women, whose fetuses can be harmed by lead. This week the BWSC reported the latest round of sampling, tap water samples taken from four Boston properties exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency and MassDEP action level for lead of 17.4 parts per billion. Due to the excess, the BWSC is required to provide notification to its customers and the public. Additionally, as required under federal and state regulations and working with MassDEP, the Commission will be conducting increased monitoring, providing public education materials to the public as well as removing additional lead service lines in the distribution system. Under State and Federal regulations, the BWSC must annually collect tap water samples from residential properties that have lead water services or copper services with lead solder and have the samples analyzed for lead.
“The longer water remains in contact with plumbing materials containing lead, the greater the possibility that lead will dissolve into the drinking water,” said John P. Sullivan, P.E., Chief Engineer. “This means that the first water drawn from a tap that has not been used for several hours may contain elevated levels of lead.” Sullivan said all water consumers who have lead service pipes or other plumbing that contains lead flush water that has not been used for several hours for a period of 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until the water feels cold prior to using the water for drinking or cooking. In 2019, during a BWSC project to repair water, sewer and drain pipes in Orient Heights, the BWSC replaced lead pipes with copper pipes from the water mains to the property lines of dozens of homes. If lead was found on the property residents were provided with documents on the BWSC Lead Replacement Program.
The BWSC continues to work with Eastie property owners and recently increased the financial assistance it provides to property owners toward the cost of lead removal through its Lead Replacement Incentive Program. The Program provides owners with up to $4,000.00 towards the cost of removal of the private lead service lines. In keeping with regulatory requirements, the Commission is expanding its Public Education Outreach campaign to advise all consumers of the dangers of lead in drinking water and the general environment and to inform them of the steps to take to avoid lead exposure. This past year, BWSC has replaced over 400 lead service lines through its Lead Replacement Incentive Program.
The goal of the outreach program is to continue these efforts towards the removal of all lead service lines in Eastie. For more information about lead in drinking water and to find out how to test tap water for lead, Boston residents may contact the Commission at the Lead Hotline at (617) 989-7888 or (617) 989-7000. Customers may also visit the Commission’s website at bwsc.org with any questions and obtain free brochures about lead in drinking water. The website also has the Lead Service Map (https://www.bwsc.org/environment-education/maproom/lead-service-map) where residents can see if their home has a lead service line.