Straight from the Tap

What Causes Elevated Lead Levels in Water


Cleveland Water takes multiple steps to make sure the water you drink is safe from a variety of potential contaminants, including lead. Our use of orthophosphate in our treatment process has substantially reduced – by about 90% -- the levels of lead found in our customer’s drinking water over the past 20 years.

While orthophosphate is an incredibly effective means of reducing risks associated with lead cityside connections, ownerside connections, and other customer-owned plumbing, you may, from time to time, see reports of lead test results that exceed the Ohio EPA Action Level of 15 parts per billion (this is about an ounce in an Olympic-size swimming pool). Here is a quick description of some of the main reasons these individual, property specific test results may be elevated:

Construction On Water Infrastructure That “Shakes Loose” Lead – If you have a lead cityside connection or a lead ownerside connection, construction on water mains in the street can “shake” the connection or service line, disturbing the orthophosphate coating on the inside of the lead pipe. When this happens, lead levels can temporarily increase until the orthophosphate coating is reapplied. That’s why, when Cleveland Water replaces a water main, we also replace all of the lead cityside connections attached to it. Additionally, we are starting a new program to notify customers if we find lead on the customer side, and providing them with specific actions they can take to lower the risk until the orthophosphate coating is re-established.

Water Sits In A Pipe, Cooler or Other Water Fixture For Too Long – The longer water sits in a pipe the more likely it is to dissolve lead. An easy thing you can do to protect you and your family is to flush the water from your plumbing after it has sat overnight or while you've been gone at work or school all day. Before using water for drinking or cooking, turn on the cold tap and let it run for 1 to 2 minutes. You’ll know the water is fresh when the temperature becomes noticeably cooler to the touch.

Small Particles of Lead Become Trapped On Your Aerator – Small particles of lead can become trapped on the aerator of your faucet causing a spike in lead test results. Periodically clean the aerator on faucets you use for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, or other potable uses. The aerator is the wire screened portion of a faucet where the water comes out. These can be unscrewed and taken apart for cleaning then put back together and screwed back into your faucet.

Additional tips can be found on In addition, we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have about lead. Please feel free to call our Lead Hotline at (216) 664-2882, send us an email through our website, or contact us on social media. We encourage you to subscribe to this blog, Straight From The Tap, where we’ll continue to post information on this and other important subjects.