How to test your home's water supply

  (Photo Illustration by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Wondering if your home’s water supply contains lead? After Tacoma and Seattle’s water advisories, this may be a concern.

Without having water tested, it can be difficult to determine if the supply is contaminated.

How to test your home’s water supply:

First contact your local water system and they will come to your home and test.

Another option is to test the water yourself, by purchasing a lead-testing kits from home improvement stores or online. Follow the instructions carefully.

Samples can be sent to a reliable lab to be analyzed.  Here's a list from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where you can send samples.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lays out tips to prevent exposure to lead. Here are some key points:

How do I know if my tap water is contaminated with lead?
The only way to know whether your tap water contains lead is to have it tested. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water. Therefore, you must ask your water provider whether your water has lead in it. For homes served by public water systems, data on lead in tap water may be available on the Internet from your local water authority. If your water provider does not post this information, you should call and find out.

Does a high lead level in my tap water cause health effects?
High levels of lead in tap water can cause health effects if the lead in the water enters the bloodstream and causes an elevated blood lead level.

If my water has high lead levels, is it safe to take a bath or shower?
Yes. Bathing and showering should be safe for you and your children, even if the water contains lead over EPA's action level. Human skin does not absorb lead in water.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate lead in my tap water?
If your tap water contains lead at levels exceeding EPA's action level of 15 ppb, you should take action to minimize your exposure to the lead in the water.

You should begin by asking your water authority these questions:

1. Does my water have lead in it above EPA's action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb)?

If the answer is no, no action is needed.

If the answer is yes, also ask the next question:

2. Does the service pipe at the street (header pipe) have lead in it?

This information is very important. It determines which of the next two actions (A or B) you should follow to protect your household’s health.

A) If the pipe in the street (header pipe) DOES NOT have lead, the lead in your tap water may be coming from fixtures, pipes, or elsewhere inside your home.

Until you eliminate the source, you should take the following steps any time you wish to use tap water for drinking or cooking, especially when the water has been off and sitting in the pipes for more than 6 hours:

aBefore using any tap water for drinking or cooking, flush your water system by running the kitchen tap (or any other tap you take drinking or cooking water from) on COLD for 1–2 minutes;

b. Then, fill a clean container(s) with water from this tap. This water will be suitable for drinking, cooking, preparation of baby formula, or other consumption. To conserve water, collect multiple containers of water at once (after you have fully flushed the water from the tap as described).

B) If the pipe at the street (header pipe) DOES contain lead, lead in the tap water may be coming from that pipe or connected pipes (it may also be coming from sources inside your home).

Until the lead source is eliminated, you should take the following steps any time you wish to use tap water for drinking or cooking, especially when the water has been off and sitting in the pipes for more than 6 hours. Please note that additional flushing is necessary:

a. Before using any tap water for drinking or cooking, run high-volume taps (such as your shower) on COLD for 5 minutes or more;

b. Then, run the kitchen tap on COLD for 1–2 additional minutes;

c. Fill a clean container(s) with water from this tap. This water will be suitable for drinking, cooking, preparation of baby formula, or other consumption. To conserve water, collect multiple containers of water at once (after you have fully flushed the water from the tap as described).

3. In all situations, drink or cook only with water that comes out of the tap cold. Water that comes out of the tap warm or hot can contain much higher levels of lead. Boiling this water will NOT reduce the amount of lead in your water.

4. You can also reduce or eliminate your exposure to lead in drinking water by consuming only bottled water or water from a filtration system that has been certified by an independent testing organization to reduce or eliminate lead.

5. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. Therefore, for homes with children or pregnant women and with water lead levels exceeding EPA's action level of 15 ppb, CDC recommends using bottled water or water from a filtration system that has been certified by an independent testing organization to reduce or eliminate lead for cooking, drinking, and baby formula preparation. Because most bottled water does not contain fluoride, a fluoride supplement may be necessary.

Also, some bottled waters have not been tested and may not be appropriate for consumption. Contact independent testing organizations that certify bottled water.

6. Make sure that repairs to copper pipes do not use lead solder.