Lead, Water & You
As you may already know lead is a common toxin found in the tap water of many homes. Research has shown that about a third of the lead in our bodies comes from drinking water that has passed through lead pipes. Lead pipes were used in much of the distribution pipelines in North America and many of these old pipes, some being over 100 years old, are leaking toxic residue that can affect your immune system, teeth and bones.
There is a wealth of information available to you online that can help safeguard your family from lead exposure without having to spend thousands of dollars replacing existing pipelines in your home. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Health Canada also have resources available to help you assess whether your home is at risk, and steps you can take to protect your family. The USA Today Network recently conducted an investigation recently found excessive lead levels in almost 2,000 water systems across the United States.
We get about a third of the lead in our bodies from drinking water that has passed through lead pipes.
75 million homes across the United States were built before 1980
That means they’re most likely to contain some lead plumbing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that’s more than half of the country’s housing units.
WHAT IS LEAD?
Lead is a naturally occurring element whose history dates back to many ancient civilizations that used it due to its ease of use in extraction and malleability. The word “plumbing” comes from the Latin plumbum for lead. It was the Romans who began using lead pipes for their plumbing systems to prevent water theft.
Although lead has been found to be dangerous to our water supply, lead has been used safely in many common items like car batteries, ceramics, fishing supplies, firearms, construction, sailboat manufacturing, and even gasoline for many years. These everyday items would likely be much more expensive without lead and much of the ancient uses might not have ever materialized if this element were never discovered.
Is Lead in My Home’s
It’s not always easy to find out. As mentioned, a USA Today Network Investigation found excessive lead levels in almost 2,000 water systems across the United States. In these cases, the lead levels exceeded the EPA’s “action level” of 15ppb (parts per billion).
While there is no minimum “safe” level for lead, this is the standard used to indicate whether drinking water supplies are at risk. The same investigation also discovered at least 180 of these water systems failed to follow federal rules to notify consumers about the high lead levels.
A FRACTURED SYSTEM
According to the EPA, one of the biggest risk factors for lead-contaminated water is whether a service line made of lead connects your home to the water main out in the street. Experts say an estimated 7.3 million homes are connected to their utility’s water mains by these lead service lines.
Tests for cities, rural subdivisions, and even schools and day cares serving water to 6 million people have found excessive and harmful levels of lead.
According to the USA Today investigation, the EPA advisory council, whose members include experts from water utilities and state agencies, recommended that EPA take numerous steps to strengthen the existing regulation.
They include developing a “household action level” that would trigger public health actions when lead contamination reaches certain levels, and ensuring the public receives more information about the risks they face.
HOW DOES LEAD AFFECT THE BODY?
The negative effects of lead as well as the positives, have been known to man since early Greek, Roman, and Chinese civilizations. Lead acts as a neurotoxin, causing damage to the central nervous system as well as the brain. Lead poisoning can cause both short and longer-term health issues.
Lead is extremely dangerous to unborn fetuses, infants, and children under the age of six. Bottlefed infants who receive a tap water and formula mixture as their main source of food are at a significant risk. Extensive led exposure in children can result in behavioral problems, reduced IQ, shortened attention span, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
WHAT IS THE CITY DOING TO REDUCE LEAD EXPOSURE?
Both the U.S. and Canada have enacted their own “Safe Water Drinking Acts.” These laws set minimum lead levels for water systems and have set standards for testing and enforcement. However, enforcement can be inconsistent.
For example, according to EPA data, 373 systems have failed repeatedly, with tests continuing to find excessive lead in tests months or even years later.
Meanwhile, in some U.S. cities, the cost to replace a home’s lead service line start around $3,000-$6,000 and can be as much as $20,000.
Because of this, experts recommend that residents living in at-risk areas install a water filter in their home, opt for breastfeeding over formula mixtures, flush pipes for at least one minute, and use cold water for cooking and consumption.
Removing Lead from Your
While the most practical advice is to have your pipes replaced and to install water filters, here are some additional ways to minimize the lead in your drinking water while you wait for the replacement pipes and filters:
- If you haven’t used a faucet for more than six hours, run the water until it reaches the coldest temperature possible.
- This entire process can take anywhere from five seconds to a few minutes and depends on how recently heavy water usage has flowed through the pipes.
- Water that has been sitting in pipes for longer periods of time can potentially have more lead in it which is why a flush is advisable.
- Hot water is more likely to contain higher concentrations of lead so it is recommended that homeowners who are at risk for lead exposure use the above advice for flushing pipes and only use water from the cold-water tap for consumption.
If you are unsure whether your public water system is served with lead pipes, you can contact your supplier and ask them what type of pipes are used in the distribution system. If the distribution system does in fact contain lead or you are unaware of the material of the pipes on your side, you should be more proactive about your options to have your water tested.
Lead cannot be detected with “the naked eye” nor can it be smelled or tasted. The only accurate way to measure your water for lead is to have it professionally tested.
The lead water test is quite simple; the homeowner collects water samples from their tap and sends them to the lab for analysis. In some scenarios the testing labs will send trained technicians out to your home to take samples. If you are collecting the samples yourself, be sure to take a sample of the water immediately as the tap is turned on as this is often the most indicative sample of lead in your water.
Removing Lead and other
Contaminants from your
Water with Filters
We have now established that the water that is sent to our homes can be contaminated with lead due to corrosive distribution pipes as well as the pipes that are on the homeowner’s side of the property line. The water is, of course, tested at the treatment plant before it is distributed to our homes, however, lead “leeches” into water through these pipes just as it can from solder, fixtures and faucets, and fittings.
Lead Prevention Water Filters
There are three different types of systems that help to filter out harmful contaminants like lead. These are the types of water filtration systems recommended for families who are looking to safeguard themselves from the harmful effects of lead and other contaminants.
It is important to note that while all of these systems will technically filter out lead, only two of them are certified to remove lead
The Under Sink Water Filter
The Whole House Water Filter essentially has the same media as these other filters but has not been tested for lead removal through formal standards.
The most comprehensive water filtration systems are called Point of Entry Systems and include the Whole House Water Filter.
Whole House Water Filter
A whole house water filter system is traditionally installed at the supply line where water enters the home. These systems remove bad tastes such as chlorine and foul odors. Whole house water filter systems are extremely helpful in reducing concentrations of lead to make water safer for drinking and cooking. In addition to removing lead from water, these Point of Entry Systems are also proficient at improving the air quality within the home, improving the feel and health of hair and skin, and the taste of foods cooked with clean water. All of these benefits are related to the water that is filtered as it enters your home.
Under Sink Water Filter
An under sink water filter is considered a Point of Use System because it is installed on the individual water sources such as bathrooms and kitchen sinks. The majority of these systems are installed by consumers who want to protect their drinking and cooking water directly from the kitchen tap.
Get the Lead Out
While lead is a naturally occurring element that has been used by many modern civilizations to transport water and to create other common items, there are potentially harmful effects it can have on your health. The harmful effects of lead poisoning include cramps, insomnia, birth defects, liver and kidney damage, as well as brain and nervous system damage.
In many cities with older buildings, the replacement of city distribution pipes alone is not enough to prevent the consumption of lead in the home; the homeowner’s pipes that are connected to the city pipes may be also leaching lead into the water.
While there are some recommendations for reducing lead consumption including flushing water before use and the avoidance of hot water for consumption, one of the best ways to prevent lead poisoning is to install water filtration systems within the home. Filter Butler recommends the Under Sink Water Filter.
We hope that you will help us to spread the word about the negative effects of lead in drinking water, its prevalence in North America, and the options your friends and neighbors have to eliminate this harmful contaminant from their water.