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Old 03-29-2019, 07:18 AM   #1
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Lead in Older Trawler Plumbing?

My recent plumbing adventure got me to wondering about the lead content of original flare fittings in many older trawlers. Our boat is a 1987. I worked hard to find lead-free fittings (actually < .25% lead content) for the new PEX supply lines I installed and then started wondering about what’s in the boat.

We do Peggie Hall’s shock treatment to the entire potable water system each season but we still drink bottled water aboard while trying to make our minds up about whether water from the tanks is safe to drink.

Anybody looked into this?
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Old 03-29-2019, 07:24 AM   #2
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Just s lube oil can betested , you can send off a water sample to find its quality.

Many town or county health depts do it for free.

A tiny amount of lead from a flair nut probably is too little to measure .
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Old 03-29-2019, 07:38 AM   #3
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You probadly have more lead in the water in your home than in the boat. Look at all the soldered fittings in a typical home.
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Old 03-29-2019, 07:41 AM   #4
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Just s lube oil can betested , you can send off a water sample to find its quality.

Many town or county health depts do it for free.

A tiny amount of lead from a flair nut probably is too little to measure .
Thanks, Fred. Think I’ll do that. Agree that one flare nut is probably inconsequential. There are probably 40 or more on my boat and probably 15 or so tees. It would be nice not to feel the need to carry bottled drinking water.
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Old 03-29-2019, 07:46 AM   #5
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You probadly have more lead in the water in your home than in the boat. Look at all the soldered fittings in a typical home.
Just reading a bit on this, the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1986 requires “lead-free” (actually very low lead) pipe and fittings in home potable water systems. Not sure if or when Taiwan got that memo.
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Old 03-29-2019, 08:21 AM   #6
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Lead in brass fittings?

I always worried about old
Lead pipes and maybe old lead solder but the possibility of lead from brass flare fittings is a completely new thing to me. Is there factual data to support this?
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Old 03-29-2019, 08:23 AM   #7
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I always worried about old
Lead pipes and maybe old lead solder but the possibility of lead from brass flare fittings is a completely new thing to me. Is there factual data to support this?
If you google brass plumbing fittings you’ll see some are not approved for potable water systems due to lead content. How this would actually affect the safety of drinking water, I have no idea. Hence this thread.
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Old 03-29-2019, 09:58 AM   #8
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My recent plumbing adventure got me to wondering about the lead content of original flare fittings in many older trawlers. Our boat is a 1987. I worked hard to find lead-free fittings (actually < .25% lead content) for the new PEX supply lines I installed and then started wondering about what’s in the boat.

We do Peggie Hall’s shock treatment to the entire potable water system each season but we still drink bottled water aboard while trying to make our minds up about whether water from the tanks is safe to drink.

Anybody looked into this?

There's LOTS of lead in older residential plumbing, 50/50 solder was the norm until about the late 80's when lead free solder was pushed into the market. Brass sweat fittings were very common, as well as brass fixtures, valves, etc. Ubiquitous. Old water system infrastructure contains lead (100% lead pipe) water services, many of which are still in use today in older cities. Lead pipe can last a LONG, LONG time. How much of that ends up inside us is variable, and the effects are different by individual. A bit of lead leaches from those sources in variable amounts, The effect on humans is cumulative, hence the concern.

California started sounding the alarms with all the stuff known to the state of California to be out to kill you, so all that old plumbing became very bad for your health. That concern has merit, but the concern was always with extended contact and exposure over a long period of time (lifetime). Still, it's been concluded that no amount of lead exposure is acceptable, so the elimination of lead components in domestic plumbing was a logical way to reduce exposure.

So you won't drink the water from your boat's system, but you'll happily glug down water from those plastic bottles you have to purchase and schlepp aboard. The materials those bottles are made from are deemed by the EPA to be safe. By today's standards. Who controls the purity of the bottled product? Before you condemn your boat's system as poisonous, keep in mind that the fittings in the system that contain trace amounts of lead have accumulated an oxide coating over the years that inhibits the leaching of lead. Lead leaching is a function of contact time, so running a bit of water will flush the leachate. Chances are, your residential plumbing, unless your home is less than 30 yrs old, probably has the same or higher potential for lead exposure than your boat does. Do you drink the water at home? If you're really concerned about lead exposure with the boat's system, have the water tested for lead. You can then make an informed decision regarding its potability.

WRT the plastic bottles, while they're currently a "safe" alternative, who knows what future science may reveal about health hazards connected with the poly that creates PEX or of those ubiquitous bottles. As far as their disposal, one needs only to take a short walk on any beach to assess their environmental impact. Recycling is proving to be problematic.



With my plumbing background, I've always found it puzzling that some of the boating community seems to eschew the water carried on board under conditions which they directly control, in favor of water in plastic bottles; a product they must purchase, transport, store, dispose of the packaging, and have no control over the quality. There's no marketing for tank water, but I'd be surprised if there's a significant quality difference. Chalk it up to personal preference. Test it.
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Old 03-29-2019, 10:09 AM   #9
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Thanks, Fred. Think I’ll do that. Agree that one flare nut is probably inconsequential. There are probably 40 or more on my boat and probably 15 or so tees. It would be nice not to feel the need to carry bottled drinking water.

Actually, if you look at the mechanics of a flare joint, the nut could be made of kryptonite. It has no point of contact with the contents of the piping.


Brass fittings contain a percentage of lead, depending on the alloy.
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Old 03-29-2019, 10:41 AM   #10
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If you are over 25, then perhaps traces of lead is not such a big deal. But if you ever have children aboard, you should be concerned. Lead is most harmful to developing brains and even low exposures can have serious consequences if the exposure is early in the child’s life. It just depends on how important a few or more of your grandchildren’s IQ points are to you. There is also the possible link between lead levels and anger and impulse control thus crime levels: youth crime nationwide began to drop around a decade after unleaded fuel was made mandatory.

https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-dr...ndup-for-2018/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bro...ses-crime/amp/
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Old 03-29-2019, 11:18 AM   #11
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There's LOTS of lead in older residential plumbing, 50/50 solder was the norm until about the late 80's when lead free solder was pushed into the market. Brass sweat fittings were very common, as well as brass fixtures, valves, etc. Ubiquitous. Old water system infrastructure contains lead (100% lead pipe) water services, many of which are still in use today in older cities. Lead pipe can last a LONG, LONG time.



California started sounding the alarms with all the stuff known to the state of California to be out to kill you, so all that old plumbing became very bad for your health. That concern has merit, but the concern was always with extended contact and exposure over a long period of time (lifetime). Still, it's been concluded that no amount of lead exposure is acceptable, so the elimination of lead components in domestic plumbing was a logical way to reduce exposure.

So you won't drink the water from your boat's system, but you'll happily glug down water from those plastic bottles you have to purchase and schlepp aboard. The materials those bottles are made from are deemed by the EPA to be safe. By today's standards. Who controls the purity of the bottled product? Before you condemn your boat's system as poisonous, keep in mind that the fittings in the system that contain trace amounts of lead have accumulated an oxide coating over the years that inhibits the leaching of lead. Lead leaching is a function of contact time, so running a bit of water will flush the leachate. Chances are, your residential plumbing, unless your home is less than 30 yrs old, probably has the same or higher potential for lead exposure than your boat does. Do you drink the water at home? If you're really concerned about lead exposure with the boat's system, have the water tested for lead. You can then make an informed decision regarding its potability.

WRT the plastic bottles, while they're currently a "safe" alternative, who knows what future science may reveal about health hazards connected with the poly that creates PEX or of those ubiquitous bottles. As far as their disposal, one needs only to take a short walk on any beach to assess their environmental impact. Recycling is proving to be problematic.



With my plumbing background, I've always found it puzzling that some of the boating community seems to eschew the water carried on board under conditions which they directly control, in favor of water in plastic bottles; a product they must purchase, transport, store, dispose of the packaging, and have no control over the quality. There's no marketing for tank water, but I'd be surprised if there's a significant quality difference. Chalk it up to personal preference. Test it.
Wow, Steve, where’s the undo button for the hot one I obviously pushed?

Not sure where you get your information about my water-drinking habits, but I said nothing about “shlepping” aboard store-bought bottled water. We reuse milk jugs and fill them at the dock.

Our home is considerably less than 30 years old and so are the mains in our neighborhood, so I’m not concerned about “poisonous” water at home. Just asking for some authoritative advice about the possibilities of lead in older trawler systems . . . which you obviously have. Too bad it has to come with a side order of judgmentalism.
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Old 03-29-2019, 11:35 AM   #12
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Great points in this discussion - I would bet $ there is lead in our trawler's fittings (its likely not that nowadays there are some that are not for potable water, its that in years past there were no warnings about the lead that was in them!) but the point about older solder in sweated joints at home is likely a larger source. Information out there about minimizing lead in drinking water involve flushing lines (letting line purge out water that's been sitting, absorbing water in your home system) and not using the hot tap for cooking water, since the hot side can facilitate lead absorption. Purging the lines assumes 1) that you have a good source to start with and 2) that you don't have a limited supply.

For home we have an RODI system and use it for cooking/drinking and top off water for our saltwater tank. We've come to love it as our primary water source.

We're taking some RODI in gallon plastic jugs (which arguably could have other bad stuff in them) to the boat, but they won't last for a longer trip and I don't want to get into the business of operating my own home bottled water plant. I might look at a small RODI system for the boat. The one for the house was only a couple hundred bucks and is sized for being able to pull several gallons at a time for the fish tank. Then we would have less worries about risky water sources as we travel to remote areas. Anyone else use RODI systems on the boat?
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Old 03-29-2019, 12:05 PM   #13
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Wow, Steve, where’s the undo button for the hot one I obviously pushed?

Not sure where you get your information about my water-drinking habits, but I said nothing about “shlepping” aboard store-bought bottled water. We reuse milk jugs and fill them at the dock.

Our home is considerably less than 30 years old and so are the mains in our neighborhood, so I’m not concerned about “poisonous” water at home. Just asking for some authoritative advice about the possibilities of lead in older trawler systems . . . which you obviously have. Too bad it has to come with a side order of judgmentalism.

Angus, no judgement... I've heard and seen plenty of boaters commenting about the cases of water they bring aboard, that's where that came from.

So you're erring on the safe side, and that's fine. Apologies if my comment came as judgemental, but there's no argument that the water bottle issue is a real one. I think that may be the button. Those plastic bottles.....

Here's the thing from a strictly pragmatic point of view (I think!): you're re-using milk jugs and other previously filled containers to avoid contamination that may be present in your on board water system- that you dutifully sterilize each season. How much bacteria lurks in those containers? Are they cleaned and sterilized? Is the dock water you're using municipal water or on site well water? How clean is the hose and nozzle? It's a reasonable conclusion that there's likely as much chance your on board water system has the same or perhaps better quality than the water you're bringing on board. The lead can only be quantified by testing given the broad range of variables involved- number of fittings, quality of alloy, presence of an oxide barrier, and how frequently the water is turned. The tap water is the same whether it goes into jugs or your tank.


There are two issues in play, the potability of the water from bacterial vs. metal contamination. I believe that both can be safely managed to provide drinkable water from the boat's potable system. If you're more comfortable with the BYO approach, then that works, too.
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Old 03-29-2019, 05:42 PM   #14
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Steve, I’ve always valued your advice on this and other forums. I apologize if I misjudged your earlier remarks. Two things the internet sucks at: conveying irony and discerning other poster’s tone.

Thanks for the good thoughts on this. To satisfy my curiosity, I may test what comes out of the taps after letting it sit in the pipes for a week. If it’s good quality, as I suspect it will be, we’ll probably let it run for a few seconds to flush the pipes, drink it and not worry about it.
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Old 04-01-2019, 03:51 PM   #15
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My recent plumbing adventure got me to wondering about the lead content of original flare fittings in many older trawlers. Our boat is a 1987. I worked hard to find lead-free fittings (actually < .25% lead content) for the new PEX supply lines I installed and then started wondering about what’s in the boat.

We do Peggie Hall’s shock treatment to the entire potable water system each season but we still drink bottled water aboard while trying to make our minds up about whether water from the tanks is safe to drink.

Anybody looked into this?
Ian, you know me and you know our boat. We have been drinking the water from our tanks for five years and have yet to become ill. You are way, way over-thinking this. We have a carbon whole house filter for the main water supply from the tanks. The water therefrom tastes just fine. Even without a filter, we would not hesitate to drink the water, and often have, after having sanitized the tank five years ago. The water going into the tanks comes from municipal water supplies or wells just like at home so we see no need to annually sanitize our tanks. However, we are live aboards so our water turns over every two or three weeks.

As for the original flare fittings, think about it for a minute and you will realize that there is no danger even if the fittings contained some lead. Look at a connection. The flared ends make for a copper to copper compression seal. The fittings serve only to apply compression pressure. They do not come into contact with the water.

In my opinion, worrying about lead in fittings is needless worry. Remember the Flint, Michigan water supply debacle? That happened because homes there have street-to-home supply pipes made of PURE lead. Even then it was not a problem until the water source was changed to one of higher acidity which removed the surface layer that had built up no longer insulating the water from the underlying lead. That's why folks who worry about lead in the sweated connections in the copper tubing of older homes - millions of them - do not have anything to worry about even in the unlikely event that a particular sweat joint had a bit too much solder such that it extended into the water stream. Again, over time, the lead develops a insulating coating much in the same way that zinc anodes do when used in fresh water on a boat that is not moved very often.

Bottom line is, if you remain concerned, install a good whole house filter and ditch the bottled water. By the way, most bottled water is simply water from municipal water supplies that has been filtered and bottled. You can do the same aboard your boat and save a bunch of money and a bunch of plastic bottles. Unless you are buying Poland Springs water from Maine or another spring water company, you are getting water from a municipal water supply or reservoir that has been what, filtered.
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Old 04-01-2019, 11:44 PM   #16
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Thanks, John. I always appreciate your advice but I’m just pondering this issue, not stressing over it. Our first house (c. 1903) had lead pipes that had been changed over to galvanized before we bought it. No idea how much water I’ve drunk over a lifetime from municipal systems and homes with lead pipes but I imagine it’s been a lot . . . and my mind’s never been sharper! .

Now where was I? Oh, yes, lead. A charcoal filter is in the plans, but I’m going to test the water first, as is, more out of curiosity than concern. I’ll post the results when I have them.

Finally, I respectfully disagree with those who believe flare fittings don’t expose water to whatever metal they’re made out of. Any male flare fitting—and especially Tees—have internal surface area that comes into contact with water passing through.

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Old 04-02-2019, 06:49 AM   #17
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My thoughts: over time the water lines and fitting will develop a patina and so long as this is not disturbed or subject to harsh chemicals oh high pH the leaching rate should be 'little'. How much? That can only be determined by testing.
Many cities are still in the process of changing out lead water pipes.
Remember the Flint MI problem? That was a result of, in part, failure to maintain the proper pH.
Also, when any city water supply is repaired, they recommend 'boil water' for a few days.
I am not a licensed plumber nor do I play a licensed plumber on tv
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Old 04-02-2019, 07:00 AM   #18
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Remember the Romans use real lead pipes , as did most major cities to hook up residential homes , and the layer of oxidation seems to have been effective.

Old free machining brass fittings ( mostly valve parts) would surely be oxide covered by now.
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Old 04-02-2019, 07:14 AM   #19
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Remember the Romans use real lead pipes , as did most major cities to hook up residential homes , and the layer of oxidation seems to have been effective.

Old free machining brass fittings ( mostly valve parts) would surely be oxide covered by now.
Like asbestos, dont disturb it and things can wait for another day. Keep a fresh coat of paint on it too. SMIRK
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Old 04-02-2019, 09:47 AM   #20
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Last year I installed a filter at the sink just so I wouldn't have to shlep all that bottled water onboard (via dinghy!) It also removes most lead - if there is any. Was an easy install.


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