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Why the public information campaign about lead now?

In light of Memphis Light, Gas and Water finding an old database showing where lead pipes were installed in the early 1900s, we wanted to make our customers aware of the information in the context that we are releasing it. The list is a public record. It is also a 16-year-old unverified document. Until we correct the errors and omissions in the data, we wanted everyone to have access to it even in its imperfect form.

How does lead get into tap water?

Memphis’ water has no detectable levels of lead when it is delivered from the Memphis Sand Aquifer, an underground water source. Lead from solder, fixtures, and pipes found in the plumbing of some older buildings and homes can get into water. Lead levels can increase when water sits in pipes and faucets for several hours when no one is using water.

What does lead in water look like?

You cannot see, taste or smell lead that has dissolved in water. Testing is the only way to be sure.

What is MLGW doing about lead levels in household tap water?

Water specialists in our labs collect and analyze thousands of drinking water samples every year throughout Shelby County to make sure our tap water meets or exceeds all local, state and federal regulations. MLGW adds sodium hexametaphosphate – a common food grade phosphate – to create a protective coating on pipes that reduces the release of metals, such as lead, from household plumbing.

Is lead still used in plumbing?

MLGW stopped using lead service lines in the 1950s. The use of lead solder in plumbing systems was banned in 1987.

How can I tell if my home has lead in the water?

Call 901-544-6549 or email and order a free water testing kit. If your home has a crawlspace or basement, you can see if you have lead pipes by looking for ones that are a dull light gray color and are about one-inch in diameter.

My home is not on the list MLGW released. Does that mean I don’t have lead pipes?

Not necessarily. It depends on when your home was built. Memphis and Shelby County home builders used lead plumbing lines until the early 1940s. The use of lead solder in plumbing wasn’t banned until 1987.

My neighbors got their water tested and found lead. Is my water safe?

Just as each home is different, test results may be different as well.  Each home should be tested separately for lead. Lead usually gets into tap water through contact with plumbing materials such as lead pipes or lead solder, or faucets, valves, and fixtures made of brass. Brass contains some lead.

If your home has lead pipes…..

What can I do reduce the potential for exposure to lead from the tap?

Run your cold water tap for at least 2-3 minutes until the water is noticeably cooler before using it for drinking, cooking or making baby formula. Always use cold water for cooking and drinking. Never use hot tap water to cook with because lead dissolves more easily in hot water.

Will running the tap before using it for cooking or drinking increase my water bill?

Running tap water is a simple and inexpensive way to protect your family's health. It usually uses less than a few gallons of water and costs about two cents. To conserve water, use the first run of water for plants or household cleaning. Once you have let the water run for 2-3 minutes, you can use your tap water for cooking and drinking.

Does boiling water remove lead?

No. Boiling water makes its worse and causes higher concentrated lead levels.

Will my filter remove lead?

Some faucet and pitcher filters can remove lead from tap water. If you use a filter, make sure it is tested and certified by an independent third party to remove lead in accordance with National Sanitation Foundation International standards. Keep in mind, such devices require periodic maintenance and filter replacement and can only treat the water that flows from the faucet(s) to which it is connected. Call NSF International at 800-NSF-8010 or for information on performance standards for home devices.

Is there anything else I can do about lead in water?

Property owners could replace pipes and fixtures containing lead with lead-free pipes and fixtures. In addition, sometimes lead and sediment can build up on the individual screens at your faucets. To clean them, take off the faucet strainers from all taps and run the water for 3–5 minutes. Thereafter, periodically remove the strainers and flush out any debris that has accumulated.

What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning is a preventable health problem. Young children and pregnant women are at greatest risk. Lead poisoning can cause learning and behavior problems and delayed growth and development in children. Lead paint in homes, not lead in water, is the most common cause of lead poisoning in children. Children can swallow lead dust from peeling lead paint when they put their hands and toys in their mouths. Children can also be exposed to lead in household dust, soil, water and some imported consumer products like clay pottery, cosmetics, food, herbal remedies and toys. Reducing exposure to lead from all sources is the best way to protect children from lead poisoning. For more information on lead poisoning, see our list of quick links to local, state and federal agencies.


How can I protect my child from lead poisoning?

  • Remind your doctor to test your child for lead poisoning at ages 1 and 2.
  • Talk to your doctor about testing older children and pregnant women if they are at risk of lead exposure.
  • Tell your landlord if you have peeling paint in your home. Your landlord must inspect and safely repair peeling paint in your home. Call the City of Memphis Code Enforcement at 901-576-7464 or Shelby County Code Enforcement at 901-222-8392 if your landlord doesn’t fix peeling paint safely.
  • Keep children away from peeling or damaged paint and home repairs that disturb lead paint.
  • Clean floors and windowsills with wet mops and wet cloths.
  • Wash toys and children’s hands often, especially before they eat.
  • If you have lead pipes in your home, use cold tap water for making baby formula, drinking and cooking. Before using, always let the water run at least 2-3 minutes, until the water is noticeably colder.
  • Do not use items that may contain lead, such as imported pottery, cosmetics and herbal remedies.
  • Call the Shelby County Health Department at 901-222-9000 for more information about lead poisoning and how to get your child tested for lead poisoning.

Where can I get more information on lead?

Quick Iinks