What's on Tap: Lead in Drinking Water
RECOMMENDED FILTERS AND SYSTEMS FOR LEAD REMOVAL
While there are a variety of lead filtration systems on the market, these three are highly rated and are top performers:
10 X 2.5 Inch 10 Stage Countertop Or Undersink Filter Cartridge Replacement By Tier1
3M Under Sink Water Faucet Filter System
ZD-018 ZeroWater Countertop Water Dispenser
Tier1 US-ST04 Undersink Smart Tap System with Drinking Water Faucet
Tier1 5-Stage Reverse Osmosis System
WHAT IS LEAD?
Lead (Pb) is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth's crust. It can be found in small amounts in ore and other elements like silver, zinc or copper. While it has been used to create useful things like pipes and paint, the highly toxic metal can cause a variety of health issues in humans and animals, including death. A heavy metal that was once a commonly used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, lead and lead compounds are now limited in use, but opportunities for exposure still exist in our daily lives. Often found in older plumbing, pipes and soldering, many of our houses still have these lead-laced fixtures. Other common uses include paint, gasoline, batteries, and cosmetics. Similarly, lead can still be found hobby materials like fishing sinkers and jigs, weights in stock cars, pottery dye and glaze, and ammunition.
HOW LEAD GETS INTO OUR WATER
Lead can be found in all parts of our environment; air, soil, water, and even inside our homes. Much of the exposure comes from industrial uses like leaded gasoline, smelting, and mining, as well as commercial and residential use of lead-based paint. While natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400 parts per million, substantial increases are the result of mining, smelting, and refining activities. During activities like these, lead is released to the air and can travel long distances before settling to the ground and sticking to soil particles. Lead can then leach from soil into ground water, and eventually into our drinking water. The primary source for lead in most drinking water sources is the pipes used within a municipal water system or household plumbing. Lead can enter drinking water through corrosion of plumbing materials, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. While homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder, new homes are also at risk. Legally "lead-free" plumbing may contain up to eight percent lead. Beginning January 2014, changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act will further reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures to 0.25 percent. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water. Lead (Pb) is often found in older plumbing. Lead pipes and lead soldering were commonly used, once upon a time, and many of our houses still have these fixtures. As time goes on and the pipes deteriorate, this means that lead is seeping into the water that comes out of our faucets. The most common cause of lead in drinking water is corrosion, a reaction between the water and the lead pipes or solder. We can't see the lead, and we can't taste it or smell it either. But we know that lead is a threat, and we need to address it.
SYMPTOMS OF LEAD POISONING: WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Generally, lead cannot be seen, tasted or smelled in drinking water. And because medical symptoms can often be mistaken for the flu or other gastrointestinal disease, healthcare providers can often misdiagnose it. While corrosion of household plumbing systems can be a clue to high lead levels, it can also indicate other harmless contaminants and be overlooked. The only effective and conclusive way to learn if your drinking water contains lead is by having it tested (see TESTING FOR LEAD below).
EFFECTS OF LEAD
Lead poisoning can be hard to diagnose, with symptoms typically appearing only after dangerous levels have developed. The Mayo Clinic has a long list of lead poisoning symptoms that range from mild conditions like abdominal pain and constipation to more severe ones like developmental delays and hearing loss in children, and memory loss and miscarriage in adults. Lead is a unique contaminant because it accumulates within the body over time, being stored in the brain, bones, kidneys and other major organs. In children, it can be stored in blood for months, and for many decades in bones. Among the dozens of effects of lead poisoning, some are irreversible and without a cure.
TESTING FOR LEAD IN DRINKING WATER
Testing your home's drinking water is the only way to confirm if lead is present. It's strongly recommended that you test your water if your home has:
- lead pipes (Not sure if your pipes are lead? If they're a dull gray metal that is soft enough to easily scratch with a key, metal screw or nail, they're probably made of lead)
- non-plastic plumbing that was installed before 1986
Steps you can take to verify the quality and safety of your drinking water:
- Consult your water supplier for reports on their water testing
- Ask your water supplier if the service line connected to your home is made of lead
- Test your home's water independently using a water test kit like the 1-AND-2 WaterCheck Water Test Kit that looks for lead and 26 other contaminants. Just make sure the kit you purchase will test for lead.
- Consult the EPA Home Drinking Water Testing Fact Sheet
- Call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791
LEAD LEVELS AND STANDARDS
The EPA published a regulation in 1991 to control lead and copper in drinking water. Called the Lead and Copper Rule (or LCR), the report details allowed levels of lead in city or municipal utility water systems. If lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb or more than 10% of customer taps sampled, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion. The regulation further details that if the level is exceeded, the system must also inform the public about steps they should take to protect their health and may have to replace lead service lines under their control. On an individual level, an independent water quality test will reveal whether lead is present in your home's drinking water and its resulting water quality report will be key to identifying the best course of treatment. With the report, you can consult a Certified Water Specialist who can recommend solutions to make your water safe.
HOW TO AVOID LEAD POISONING
There are a few basic measures you can take to reduce your exposure to lead through drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that, at the very least, you let your faucet run for two or three minutes before taking water to drink or cook with. This gives sitting water time to run through; water that's been sitting on lead in the pipes will accumulate lead particles, and it's safest to let them flush themselves through. Don't ever drink hot water straight from the tap, because it can contains more lead than cold water; the heat lets lead dissolve more easily so it carries lead better. You cannot rid water of lead by boiling it. This will have the opposite of the desired effect: rather than getting rid of lead in your water, you'll end up with concentrated lead soup. Primary treatment options for lead:
- Water "Softener" Type of System with special medium for lead reduction
- Reverse Osmosis
- Distillation Unit
- Carbon Block Filtration
Treatments/solutions options Install a water filtration system. From reverse osmosis to carbon block filtration, there are different types of water treatment and filtration systems that can reduce the amount of lead that fills your water glass. Run the water before drinking. When a faucet in your home hasn't been used in six hour or more, turn on the water and let it run until the temperature becomes cold. Only use cold water for cooking and drinking. Hot water causes the lead to become more concentrated, so never use hot water. Replace your plumbing. Under The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), home plumbing repairs and installation may only use lead-free pipe, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures with an allowable lead content level of 0.25 percent.
WHEN TO REPLACE THE FILTER
Regular replacement of the filter and/or cartridge is critical to maintaining their effectiveness and reducing bacterial contamination. An overused or out-of-date filter can become dangerous because the filter will no longer trap contaminants, allowing them to leach back into your water. For the safety of you and your loved ones, it's important not to put off replacement too long. There are four effective ways of knowing when it's time to replace your water filter:
- Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Their specified replacement timing will err on the side of caution so you can be assured that your water quality will always be safe.
- Measure usage. Install a filter measurement meter or filter monitor that connects to the incoming water line that feeds the filter system and measures the number of gallons that pass through. Then using the manufacturer's recommended usage limit, program the monitor to alert you when you've reached the allowed number of gallons. You'll know exactly when it's time to replace the filter.
- Read your water bill. If your home is supplied with municipal water, your water bill will tell you exactly how much water is used monthly. Compare your actual usage to the manufacturer's recommendation and plan the replacement accordingly.
- Monitor manually. If you have non-municipal water, the most cost effective method is to monitor your filter manually, either with your palate or a water testing kit. Start with routine water tests that look for lead, microorganisms and other contaminants to verify whether your filters are still removing them. For drinking water systems, simply fill a glass with water and check the flavor yourself. You'll be able to see or taste when the filter is exhausted and no longer purifying your water because the water flavor will be unpleasant.
For answers to alkalinity-related questions, recommendations on the best filter for your home or general drinking water questions, contact us.