Seattle’s drinking water sources do not contain lead. However, lead can leach into water from plumbing and materials built with lead-based solder, brass fixtures, or some types of zinc coatings used on galvanized pipes and fittings.
New information on lead
April 27, 2016
After two days of extensive testing in five Seattle homes, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) confirmed on April 24 that the city’s water continues to be safe to drink.
The utility started testing after learning that Tacoma Public Utilities had detected high levels of lead in four water samples taken from galvanized steel service lines.
In response to that information, SPU asked customers to run their water before using it if the water had not been run for a while. SPU then initiated its own precautionary tests.
SPU's test results were well below the action level for lead of 15 parts per billion (ppb). The highest level recorded in the tests was 1.95 ppb.
Seattle’s water quality experts worked with five homeowners distributed throughout the city with galvanized steel service lines. They sampled water from the main to the tap after allowing the water to sit overnight in the pipes.
The test results mean SPU water customers can return to using water as they did before the announcement. (EPA, DOH and SPU recommend running the water before drinking.)
SPU’s source water, supplied to 1.3 million people in the region, comes from protected mountain watersheds in the Cascades Mountains and is considered to be some of the best water in the nation.
Seattle regularly tests its water for lead and other contaminants, and has met all requirements of the federal Lead and Copper Rule since 2003.
The utility’s state-of-the-art water quality laboratory analyzes over 20,000 microbiological samples each year — more than 50 a day taken throughout the system — and conducts chemical and physical monitoring daily, 365 days per year.
SPU continues to work with key stakeholders and regulators including DOH, Seattle-King County Public Health, EPA and city departments.
For additional information, view our questions and answers document (pdf).
If you require further assistance, contact us at (206) 684-5800 Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Drinking water in your home – Washington State Department of Health
Find accredited labs – Washington State Department of Ecology
Drinking Water Quality at Seattle Public Schools
Health effects of lead – Seattle and King County Public Health
Reduce your lead exposure
There are a few simple steps you can take in the home to reduce the risk of lead in your drinking water:
- If water has been standing in pipes for over 6 hours, flush out the pipes by running the tap for 2 minutes. To save water, use the water you flush out for watering plants or doing dishes.
- Always draw drinking and cooking water from cold water tap — lead dissolves more quickly in hot water.
- Never make baby formula or other drinks or food for children from the hot water tap. Start with water taken from the cold water faucet (after flushing) and warm it if necessary.
- If you are making plumbing changes, be sure to select low-lead or no-lead fixtures. As of January 2014, a new federal law is in effect, reducing the amount of lead in plumbing fixtures from 8 percent to 0.25 percent. Manufacturers are already offering faucets that meet the new standard.
Test your home drinking water
To have your home water tested for lead, contact a certified lab near your area. The Washington State Department of Ecology is responsible for certifying labs in Washington and maintains a database where you can find labs certified to test drinking water. Analysis costs range from $25 to $50. Please contact the laboratories directly for sample collection procedures and prices.
Seattle Public Utilities’ Water Quality Laboratory is not set up to test high volumes of residential samples for lead.
Lead and Copper Rule compliance
SPU began sampling and analysis to meet the EPA Lead and Copper Rule in 1992. The Lead and Copper Rule sets action levels of 15 ug/L (0.015 mg/L) for lead and 1300 ug/L (1.3 mg/L) for copper. A utility must make treatment changes or meet other requirements if the action level for either lead or copper is exceeded in more than 10% of the residential samples.
We have put a tremendous amount of effort into reducing lead and copper levels from home plumbing materials. North-end reservoirs have been covered and gas chlorination has been converted to hypochlorination for distribution system reservoirs. The Tolt Treatment Facility was brought online in 2001 and includes ozonation, coagulation, flocculation, direct filtration, fluoridation, pH control, alkalinity adjustment, and chlorine disinfection.
These improvements have resulted in substantially lower lead levels in home tap samples. Seattle now qualifies for reduced monitoring for lead and copper (50 homes once every 3 years). The most recent round of samples showed no results with lead or copper above the action levels. Seattle has met all requirements of the lead and copper rule since 2003.