Straight from the Tap

What We Do About Lead: Engineering & Research


In addition to our water treatment techniques, we also implement several engineering practices to reduce the potential for exposure to lead in drinking water.

While these actions are effective at keeping your water safe, we know that any amount of lead presents a health risk. That's why we're working to remove lead service lines throughout our system.

Replacing Lead Service Lines

Drinking water is lead-free when it leaves our treatment plants and our water mains are not made from lead. However, some older service lines do contain lead. We replace all lead city-owned service lines during water main repair and replacement projects and offer to replace customer-owned service lines for free if they’re disturbed during repairs and main replacements.

We encourage customers to replace customer-owned lead service lines, especially when we are replacing city-owned lead service lines. The highest risk for lead exposure is when partial lead service lines are left behind. When a customer-owned lead service line is not removed at the same time we replace a city-owned line, Cleveland Water will offer customers in the project area a water pitcher with three months of filters certified to remove lead and a test kit.

When customers initiate a lead service line replacement, we’ll also remove the city-owned service line at the same time as well as provide a water pitcher and filters.

In addition, we recently received $1.5 million to remove lead service lines from licensed childcare facilities in our service area. If you or someone you know currently operates a licensed child care facility, call 216-664-2882 or email to learn more.

Researching Better Ways to Find Lead

Identification of where lead service lines exist in our system is critical for us to be able to develop an accurate inventory and plan for future replacements. However, typical methods for doing so present several issues.

Currently, the only guaranteed method to confirm service line material is through inspection after excavation, which is both an expensive and impractical approach. Another option is historical record review.  However, this method is not only time-consuming but also only 70-80% effective in determining the likelihood of service line material as some records are incomplete.

That’s why we’re working to find innovative methods to better identify lead service lines in our system.

One such method is a research study being conducted in partnership with US EPA and Battelle to try to determine if scientific analysis of a home’s water can be used to determine if a service line is lead or not. This study involves sampling water at homes across our service area and analyzing those samples to see how they correlate to the visual inspection of the service line conducted during sampling.

We also partnered with Cleveland Water Alliance and other Ohio municipalities in an open call for innovations in detecting lead service lines without breaking ground.

Minimizing Removal Impacts

There are several additional actions we take to reduce potential lead exposure when removing service lines.

If a customer-owned lead service line is left behind after a city-owned line has been replaced, we cut the customer-owned service line in a way that reduces the chances of lead particulate entering the line. We follow this up with a service line flush to remove as many potential lead particles as possible from the line.

Additionally, when two different types of metal are joined together, the potential for metal corrosion increases. This type of corrosion is called dielectric corrosion. To help reduce the risk of lead corrosion when a customer-owned lead service line is left behind, we use dielectric couplings. These plastic couplings act as insulators, which reduces the potential for dielectric corrosion and therefore the likelihood of lead corroding into drinking water.