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Lead and drinking water

Information
Graphic with a photo of a bend in a copper pipe on the right, a picture of water coming out of a faucet into a glass in the middle, and a vertical blue stripe with wavy lines on the right. A light brown icon with the white outline of a pipe overlays the middle picture and the blue stripe.
Learn how lead enters drinking water, how you can test for lead and reduce your exposure to lead in water, and what the Water Bureau is doing to reduce lead in water.
On this page

Public health is our highest priority. We care about the health of the families in our community and are committed to help you limit your exposure to lead in drinking water. On this page, learn about how we treat your drinking water to reduce lead levels at the tap as well as additional steps you can take to protect your family if lead is present in your home plumbing. You can find our lead test results on our Drinking Water Test Results page.

How does lead get into my water?

Water-related lead exposure in Portland is linked to building plumbing and fixtures, not to lead in our source water or distribution system. Portland’s drinking water is essentially lead-free when it flows out of our two, high-quality drinking water sources and travels through the water mains and distribution system in the city. Portland is fortunate to never have used lead service lines. We have removed all known lead service connectors, also known as lead pigtails or goosenecks.

In Portland, common sources of lead in home plumbing are (1) lead solder connecting copper pipes and (2) brass in plumbing components or fixtures. Water generally needs to be in contact with the source of lead for several hours for lead to be absorbed in the water. A water test is the only way for you to find out if your plumbing is adding lead to your water.

Home plumbing can add lead to your drinking water graphic. Lead free: Portland Water Bureau never used lead pipes in the water mains. Lead pigtails were used prior to WWII; all known pigtails removed by 1998; Portland Water Bureau never used lead pipes for the service lines; and Portland Water Bureau has used lead-free meters since 1986. May contain lead: Faucets and fixtures installed before 2014 could contain leaded brass; and lead solder was commonly used to join copper pipe before 1985.

Text version of the graphic 

In Portland, the most common sources of lead exposure are lead-based paint, household dust, soil, and plumbing materials. Lead is also found in other household objects such as painted antique furniture, barro pottery, cultural cosmetics (sindoor, kumkum, tikka, roli, and kohl), and turmeric purchased overseas. Find more information about all sources of lead at the LeadLine (503-988-4000).

How can I test my water for lead?

We provide free lead-in-water testing to residents, child care providers, and schools. Find more information and request a kit on our request a test kit page.

How can I reduce my exposure to lead in water?

  • Run your water to flush the lead out. If the water has not been used for several hours, run each tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until it becomes colder before drinking or cooking. Running your tap flushes water that may contain lead from your pipes. Running your water like this can reduce lead-in-water levels up to 90 percent.
  • Use cold, fresh water for cooking and for preparing baby formula. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Do not use water from the hot water tap for cooking, drinking, or to make baby formula.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
  • Test your water for lead. Order a FREE lead-in-water test from the LeadLine online or at 503-988-4000.
  • Test your child for lead. Ask your doctor or contact the LeadLine to find out how to have your child tested for lead. A blood lead level test is the only way to know if your child is being exposed to lead.
  • Consider using a filter. Check whether it reduces lead – not all filters do. To protect water quality, maintain and replace a filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Learn more about how to choose a water filter on our home water filtration and treatment page.
  • Regularly clean your faucet aerator. Particles containing lead from solder or household plumbing can become trapped in your faucet aerator. Regular cleaning or replacement every few months will remove these particles and reduce your exposure to lead.
  • Consider buying low-lead fixtures. As of 2014, all pipes, fittings, and fixtures are required to contain less than 0.25 percent lead. When buying new fixtures, look for ones with the lowest lead content.

How the Water Bureau addresses lead in water

Optimized Corrosion Control Treatment

To protect our community from lead in water and meet regulatory requirements, we have made investments in our drinking water treatment systems to reduce lead levels at the tap. 

In April 2022, we improved our lead in water treatment by bringing new treatment online that adds soda ash and carbon dioxide to increase the alkalinity and pH of the Bull Run drinking water. After demonstrating the effectiveness of this treatment through regulatory sampling, the Oregon Health Authority deemed the improved treatment as Optimized Corrosion Control Treatment.

Looking forward at our future water treatment investments, our next drinking water treatment upgrade is Bull Run Filtration, which is scheduled to be online in 2027. Even though the primary benefit of filtration is to remove Cryptosporidium and other potential contaminants, our testing shows that filtration combined with corrosion treatment will reduce lead levels even more. We look forward to continuing our work to further reduce lead levels at the tap.

Lead testing

Each year, the Portland Water Bureau collects water samples from a group of over 100 homes that have lead solder and are more likely to have higher levels of lead in water. We share these results in our Annual Water Quality Report and post them on our Drinking Water Test Results page.

Other water system improvements

Alongside our drinking water treatment that reduces lead at the tap, we completed several efforts to reduce or remove sources of lead from the water system. We:

  • Partnered with the State of Oregon to enact Oregon’s lead-based solder ban, which was passed by the state legislature in 1985.
  • Inventoried pipe materials in Portland’s distribution system. In 1994, Portland’s materials inventory found the following:
    • Conduits are made of steel that is lined with mortar or coal tar.
    • Transmission, supply, and distribution mains are made of steel that is unlined or lined with mortar; concrete; ductile iron lined with mortar; or cast iron that is unlined or lined with mortar.
    • Service lines are made of copper or galvanized iron.
    • Some service connectors (pigtails) were made of lead.
  • Removed known sources of lead from the system. All known lead service connectors (pigtails) were removed from the system by 1998.
  • Replaced large meters containing lead components that serve water to at-risk populations. Since the mid-2000s, all replacement meters have been lead-free.

Home plumbing can add lead to your drinking water diagram (text version)

Lead free:

  • Water main: Portland Water Bureau never used lead pipes in the water mains. [Illustration of a large pipe under the street.]
  • Lead pigtails: used prior to World War Two. All known pigtails removed by 1998. [Illustration of a short, curved, gray pipe connected to the water main on one side and a straight pipe, the service line, on the other side.]
  • Service lines: Portland Water Bureau never used lead pipes for the service line. [Illustration of an underground pipe that connects the water main to the water meter and then the water meter to the house.]
  • Water meter: Portland Water Bureau has used lead-free meters since 1986. As a result, over 95% of homes have a lead-free meter. [Illustration of a water meter dial, which looks a bit like a watch face with numbers around the outside and a red arm in the middle.]

May contain lead:

  • Faucets and fixtures: faucets installed before 2014 could contain leaded brass. [Illustration of a kitchen faucet.]
  • Lead solder: lead solder was commonly used to join copper pipe before 1985. [Illustration of a bended copper pipe with two solder joints above and below the bend.]

Contact

Water Quality Line

Ask drinking water quality and pressure questions.
phone number503-823-7525Monday - Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Interpretation services available.