old rusty lead and iron pipes

Why Are Lead Pipes a Problem? Does Your D.C.-Area Home Still Have Lead Plumbing?

In 2014, Flint, Michigan switched the source of their water supply from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River. This cost-saving measure led to the Flint Water Crisis that justifiably made headlines across the country.

Residents knew something was wrong and took it upon themselves to organize water testing after the government initially dismissed their concerns. It turned out 17 percent of residential water tests showed lead levels were at 15 parts per billion (ppb) in homes – just 5 ppb is considered a very serious problem.

Elevated blood-lead levels more than doubled among the city’s children during this period – even tripling in some neighborhoods. By the time the alarms were wrung, and people stopped using tap water, nearly 9,000 children had been bathing in, playing in and drinking lead-contaminated water for a year and a half.

Why Lead Is So Serious

Flints issues weren’t minor problems with short-term consequences. The repercussions of lead exposure can be far reaching and difficult to quantify.

Adults exposed to lead can experience a decrease in kidney function, the development of cardiovascular issues and hypertension and suffer negative effects to their reproductive systems (both males and females).

Fetuses can be stunted, which is compounded when lead exposure causes pregnant women to give birth prematurely. Lead in drinking water can also contaminate breastmilk, exposing nursing babies to dangerously high levels of lead. There’s also evidence to link lead contamination to birth defects and miscarriages.

Maybe worst of all is the extent to which prolonged lead exposure can derail the lives of children. Lead has been linked to lower IQs and hyperactivity, may contribute to learning problems and behavioral issues, stunts growth, causes anemia and even results in hearing problems.

The majority of these negative effects can play a significant role in educational failure rates and future delinquency. It’s not just a health problem – lead poisoning can lead to serious long-term social problems too.

The nationwide outrage over the Flint situation was entirely justified. It’s easy for people to imagine how they’d feel to find out the future of their families was put at risk to save some money on water.

Don’t Assume D.C. Is Immune From Its Own Lead Problems

Washington D.C. has had its own nasty history with lead contamination. In the first half of the 2000s residents may have been exposed to lead levels 20 to 30 times worse (spread out over years instead of 18 months) than what was experienced in Flint. The city turned things around, and experts have suggested that since 2010 the water supplied to families in the District has been just as safe if not safer than other cities in the country.

A big part of the problem is still here; it’s not necessarily the source of the water that’s the problem – it’s the delivery system. Many D.C. homes are still supplied with water using lead pipes and have their homes plumbed with lead pipes.

If you don’t know whether or not your home is using lead pipes or is supplied by a lead water line, you should strongly consider finding your home on the D.C. Water Service lead pipe map. The map tracks both the public water line supplying your home and historical records pertaining to the plumbing in your home.

Map Legend

  • Solid Green Dot: No Lead Pipes
  • Solid Grey Dot: Lead Pipes in Both the Home and Public Supply
  • Green/Grey Dot: Safe Public Water Supply Pipe but Likely Lead Pipes in the Home
  • Grey/Green Dot: Likely Lead Public Water Supply Pipe but Safe Pipes in the Home

You can see many more green dots (no lead) than grey (lead) on the map, but there’s still way too much grey in the D.C. metro area. People living in those residences could be regularly exposed to dangerous concentrations of lead on a daily basis.

There is no known “safe blood lead concentration.” Any lead is bad and should be out of water families use to bathe, wash clothes and drink.

Providing Help to Solve the Problem

As a long-time area plumbing company, Vito Services understands the lead pipe problem better than most. We’ve been helping families and businesses switch from lead pipes to much safer alternatives like copper for decades.

Every day we’re proud to provide plumbing and HVAC services that make a significant difference in the comfort of our customers, but dealing with lead pipes in our community is uniquely important to our team. We know that helping fix D.C.’s lead-pipe problem is something that can really make a long-term difference in the health, safety and life outcomes for thousands of our DMV-area neighbors.

How You Can Get Started

The first thing you should do is find your home on the D.C. Water Service Information map. If the map suggests either the supply line or the pipes in your home may be lead, give us a call at 866-792-7154 or 1-800-GET-VITO so we can send out one of our certified plumber to check on your home.

If your house has lead pipes and is eligible for the program, we’ll provide you a written quote for the replacement work. The public side of the pipe will be covered by the government, but you may have to pay at least part of the cost of replacing the pipes on the property you own.

Many D.C. residents qualify for financial assistance to replace lead pipes in their home.

Applicants can also email us at [email protected] with questions about our free quote or the lead pipe replacement program.

Once you’ve received your written quote, you’ll need to apply for the program through the Department of Energy & Environment.  

In order to qualify you will be required to upload a few supporting documents, including:

  • The quote (estimate) your Vito Services plumber gave you
  • Your most recent D.C. water bill
  • A copy of your photo ID
  • Some form of proof of home ownership
  • Proof of income (important to determine the level of assistance provided)

The financial assistance provided will depend on your household income. Assistance level one will cover the full price of the lead replacement up to a maximum cost cap. To find out how much money you may qualify for, we encourage you to read through the infographic on this page.

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