Is There Lead In Water? What Can I Do About It?

A common concern among people shopping for water filters is whether there is lead in the water they are drinking. Particularly after the scandal in Flint, Michigan, there is heightened scrutiny around drinking water, and rightfully so.

Lead is a toxic metal that occurs naturally in the earth and has been used most notable in gasoline and paint. Following new regulation in the late 1980s banning lead gas, paint, and plumbing materials, the amount of lead released into the environment (at least in the United States) has greatly decreased, although it can still be found in homes constructed or painted prior to 1986, as well as in consumer products, including certain types of pottery, pewter, food, and cosmetics.

Lead is indeed found in drinking water, largely due to lead present in the pipes and fixtures used to carry the water from source to homes. While lead was banned from plumbing in the 1980s, pipe manufacturers are allowed to label their plumbing products “lead-free” as long as the lead content in the surfaces exposed to water is less than 0.25%. Lead can be leached from pipes by water that is soft or acidic and by water that has been left standing in the pipes.

The EPA has determined that there is no “safe” level of lead in the human body, and pregnant women, infants, and children are particularly vulnerable to lead. Lead accumulates in the body and is stored in the bones; the bones then release it during pregnancy as the fetus develops. Lead can cause slowed growth, development, and behavioral problems in babies and children, and reproductive and kidney problems, among other issues, in adults.

The EPA’s action level for lead in water is 15 parts per billion (sometimes written as 15 μg/L); any lead detection above this level necessitates an alert to the community consuming the water, and action to reduce the lead level.

There are a handful of simple measures that households can take to reduce the risk of lead exposure in water, including:

  • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking. Lead leaches more easily into hot water.
  • If feeding a baby using powdered baby formula, mix it with cold water only, for the reason stated above.
  • Run water from a faucet for at least 30 seconds before using. This will flush out lead that has accumulated in standing water.
  • Test plumbing fixtures and replace them if they are found to contain lead.
  • Get your water tested by a professional.
  • Use a water filter.

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