About two weeks ago, WBAL TV got early access to an interactive map that shows hundreds of thousands of homes in Baltimore could have lead drinking water pipes.

The dots on the map, published by the Baltimore Service Line Partnership, do not mean all those homes in Baltimore and Baltimore County have lead water pipes. Instead, they indicate that local officials don’t know whether the water pipes are made of lead or another material.

The Department of Public Works is asking residents and homeowners to inspect their own water lines. The effort comes as the federal government is requiring local governments to inspect public and private water pipes by October 2024 and inventory whether they contain lead.

A screen grab of the Baltimore Service Line Partnership’s map of Baltimore shows homes around Patterson Park that need to be investigated to see whether they have lead pipes.

Experts say there is no safe amount of lead, especially for children, so it’s important to take action to prevent exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency in April this year estimated there are some 71,000 lead service lines in Maryland.

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On Thursday, the Biden administration proposed rules that would strengthen requirements surrounding lead pipes in the U.S. The proposed rules aim to achieve 100% replacement of lead pipes in the country within 10 years, according to the EPA.

Millions of people consume drinking water from lead pipes and the EPA said tighter standards would improve IQ scores in children and reduce high blood pressure and heart disease in adults. It is the strongest overhaul of lead rules in more than three decades, and will cost billions of dollars. Pulling it off will require overcoming enormous practical and financial obstacles.

The Biden administration has previously said it wants all of the nation’s roughly 9 million lead pipes to be removed, and rapidly. Lead pipes connect water mains in the street to homes and are typically the biggest source of lead in drinking water. They are most common in older, industrial parts of the country.

The proposal, called the lead and copper rule improvements, would for the first time require utilities to replace lead pipes even if their lead levels aren’t too high. Most cities have not been forced to replace their lead pipes and many don’t even know where they are. Some cities with a lot of lead pipes might be given longer deadlines, the agency said.

In addition, the EPA announced it wants to lower the level of lead at which utilities are forced to take action. And federal officials are pushing cities to do a better job informing the public when elevated lead levels are found.

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How to inspect your water lines

After WBAL published their story, I quickly checked the interactive map and saw a dot at my address. I gathered the necessary supplies to do a home water line inspection — DPW suggest a magnet, a key and a camera to complete the test.

It was easy and quick to head to my home’s basement, where water enters the home, and complete three tests. Tapping on the pipe to see what sounds it makes (lead pipes make a dull noise), scratching it to see what color shows up (lead pipes show shiny silver), and seeing whether the pipe is magnetic (lead pipes are not).

The metal pipe is not magnetic (uh-oh) but made a metallic, ringing noise when I tapped on it. When I scratched it, it showed an orange color, not shiny silver. Whew — we have copper pipes, not lead.

The hardest part of the test was angling my phone behind the drywall in our basement to get a photo of where the pipe enters the home to submit to DPW.

I submitted the information that same night, Nov. 13. As of noon on Nov. 30, though, the DPW map had not updated to show the survey results.

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DPW didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cody Boteler a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others. 

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