Frequently Asked Questions About Lead

What is lead?

Lead is a common metallic element in nature and can be found in air, soil, and water.  It was commonly used in gasoline and paint up until the 1970’s and is still sometimes found in products such as ceramics, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.  Lead was used for centuries in plumbing because of its pliability and resistance to leaks.  Lead pipes were banned in Kentucky on January 1, 1988.

Why is lead a health risk?

Lead is a toxic metal that can cause immediate effects at high doses and long-term effects if it builds up in the body over many years. Young children are particularly vulnerable because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and kidney damage. Because it is colorless and tasteless, lead is not obvious in water. In fact, the only way to know for certain whether your drinking water contains lead is to have your water tested by a certified laboratory.

Does the Northern Kentucky Water District have lead in its water?

The Northern Kentucky Water District (NKWD) takes concerns about lead seriously.  We test the finished (ready to drink) water leaving the treatment plants.  Finished water does not contain lead when it leaves NKWD’s treatment plants.  The potential for lead in drinking water is primarily from possible leaching from your home plumbing (e.g., indoor pipes, soldered joints, and fixtures) and service lines (the pipe connecting your home to the water main). 

How is lead in drinking water regulated?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a regulation in 1991 to control lead in drinking water at customers’ taps.  Our monitoring and reporting is conducted in accordance with these regulatory requirements and guidance.  The regulations include testing for lead in water samples collected from customers’ homes.  NKWD has been in continuous compliance with the lead standards.  The most recent round of lead compliance testing completed in 2021 showed there were no sites above the lead action level* of 15 parts per billion. 

Please note: every home is different, so the amount of lead in your tap water may be lower or higher than NKWD monitoring results for the selected sites.

*Action level is the concentration of a contaminant which, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements which a water system must follow. For lead, 15 parts per billion is the action level.

What is being done to control my exposure to lead?  

Protecting you against exposure to lead is a shared responsibility.  NKWD is required to provide treatment that minimizes the corrosivity of the water.  We do this by adjusting the pH and using a safe additive, a corrosion inhibitor, that protects the pipe material and helps lower the potential for lead to be released into the water.  Although corrosion control can reduce risks, the best way to assure your home is safe from lead exposure through water is to remove the potential sources of lead.  You can take responsibility for identifying and removing service materials within your home that may contain lead, including the service line going into your home, as an additional precaution. 

Graphic showing the service line and property boundaries.What is a water service line and who owns it?

The service line is the small line that connects your home to the public water main.  A portion of the service line from the water main to the water meter is owned by NKWD.  The remainder is privately owned.  The property owner is responsible for the private portion from the meter to the home.  For meters found inside the home, NKWD is responsible up to the curb stop or the property line if no curb stop is present.

How many lead service lines exist in Northern Kentucky?

Based on observations from field work in our system and Property Valuation Administration (PVA) building age information, we suspect that as many as 30,000 lead service lines could potentially exist in the Northern Kentucky Water District service area.  Structures built prior to 1930 have the greatest potential for having a lead service line.  We believe using lead for service lines was phased out during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  We are including structures built through 1955 in our estimate of 30,000 potential lead service lines.  It is possible that homes built before 1955 do not have lead service lines.  It is also possible that homes built after this date could have lead service lines. 

To comply with a regulatory requirement, we are currently compiling our inventory of materials used for all service lines and may be contacting you to ask what type of pipe enters your building from the street. 

Will the water utility replace my lead service line?

Privately owned lead services lines on a customer’s property are not part of the public water system.  Lead service lines, indoor plumbing and fixtures are owned and installed at the expense of the property owner.  NKWD advises that you contact a licensed plumber for work on your service line and indoor plumbing. 

If you decide to replace your lead service line, which you are strongly encouraged to do, please contact our office at (859) 578-5451. We will want to review the type of service line material to document the private line replacement and possibly coordinate it with public line replacement. 

What if I receive notice of water main construction or lead service line work?

We attempt to contact customers who are affected by water main replacement construction or service line maintenance work potentially involving a lead service line.  Available research indicates that when lead service lines are disturbed, the amount of lead found in customers’ drinking water may increase for a period of time. 

If you receive a notice saying a lead service line was found during water main replacement projects or maintenance work, we strongly encourage you to follow all flushing recommendations and to replace your privately owned lead service line.  If you replace your lead service line, please contact us at (859) 578-545 to coordinate and document its replacement. 

What if I do not replace my lead service line after receiving notice of work?

We will notify you immediately following the service line work by leaving a door hanger that indicates whether the service line remaining in place appears to be made of lead or not.  If you are a customer with a lead service line affected by construction or maintenance activity and you do not replace your lead service line at the same time, then you should follow the flushing recommendations provided.

You may also wish to use a filtering pitcher or in-line home filter, certified by NSF/ANSI to remove lead, for water to be used for drinking and cooking, particularly if you are pregnant or have children under age six. This includes water used for making ice, beverages, and infant formula.

We will provide, at no charge to you, a water filtering pitcher and replacement cartridges that are certified for lead removal for a reasonable period of time. 

You may pick up these items from our office located at 2835 Crescent Springs Road in Erlanger during normal business hours (Monday through Friday 8 AM to 5 PM).

What if I want my water tested for lead?

You may contact a state-certified laboratory to request a test for lead, or you may contact our laboratory at (859) 441-0482 to request a free initial water test.  There may be a charge assessed for multiple tests.

What are we doing to enhance our lead control program?

NKWD is expanding its educational information and customer communication on issues related to lead.  This involves notices for construction and maintenance work that may potentially involve repair or replacement of publicly owned lead service lines.  While funding assistance for replacement of lead service lines is currently limited at a local, state, or federal level, NKWD will monitor the introduction of funding assistance, including for the privately owned portion, that may be made available in the future. 

Can I shower in lead-contaminated water?

Bathing and showering should be safe for you and your children, even if the water contains lead over the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level. Human skin does not absorb lead in water, however, take measures to ensure that children do not drink bath water.

Northern Kentucky Water District