Did you know that there may be lead in your water?
Lead is a toxic metal that can cause serious health problems in children and adults. The problem with lead in the United States water supply has been around for decades, but people are only now starting to notice it.
You deserve to know what you are putting into your body when you drink or cook with tap water. Lead poisoning has become more prevalent and it’s not too late to act.
This article will discuss what lead is and how it affects our bodies so you have the right information to make educated decisions about your drinking water.
Table of Contents
- How Does Lead Get Into Water?
- Signs of Lead in Water
- What are the Health Symptoms of Lead Poisoning?
- What to Do When Your Family is Exposed to Lead?
- Is Lead in Water Bad for Plants?
- How to Remove Lead in Water
- Now is the Time to Act!
How Does Lead Get Into Water?
In order to understand the issue, it is important to go to the source. This means we need to know how lead gets into the water we use and drink.
While lead is a naturally occurring metal element on earth, it rarely occurs naturally in the water supply.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the main way that your water gets contaminated with lead is within the delivery system. That means that lead in drinking water is picked up somewhere between the water supplier and you.
In particular, lead pipes in the distribution system are primary contributors of lead in water systems. Lead pipes were widely used in the past and if your plumbing system is older, it might contain corroded pipes that contaminate your water.
Even if you are not using lead pipes, lead solder used to join pipes, brass containing lead, as well as valve and cooler components are other sources of exposure.
Older submersible pumps used in private wells have a “packer” component made of lead or leaded-brass parts that could be contaminating your well water.
To a lesser extent, lead can enter water systems through contamination from old lead paint, gasoline, batteries, ceramic products, and other sources that contain lead and have been dumped in the environment.
Signs of Lead in Water
Unfortunately, there are no visible signs to determine that there is lead in drinking water.
Lead does not change the appearance, smell, or taste of tap water.
The only way to know for sure is to have your water tested by a certified laboratory.
If you live in an older building, have an older well, or know of other lead issues in your area, these are strong signals that you should have the water checked.
How to Test for Lead in Water?
A comprehensive test is necessary to detect lead in drinking water.
You can call a local expert to perform the tests or order a DIY collection kit and send your drinking water in to be tested.
It will cost from a few tens of dollars to around a hundred dollars.
How Much Lead is Allowed in Drinking Water?
In the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) passed by the Congress in 1974, they established guidelines with regards to the contaminants in drinking water. They call these requirements a maximum contaminant level goal or MCLG.
When it comes to lead, the MCLG is always zero, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This means that the drinking water requirements state that the water source should not contain even the tiniest levels of lead.
However, lead does not normally come from the water source, so the MCLG is not often useful when it comes to preventing lead from getting into tap water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) then established a treatment technique to deal with contamination that comes from lead corrosion in plumbing systems. The regulation (known as the Lead and Copper Rule) is based on the corrosivity of tested water. The regulation states that if 10% of your samples contain 15 parts of lead per billion, you have to make updates to the water system to protect all residents.
What are the Health Symptoms of Lead Poisoning?
Although the water itself does not look dirty, people who drink lead contaminated water will show symptoms of lead poisoning over time.
The human health effects of exposure to lead can be long-term and even irreversible. Lead damages the brain, kidneys, blood vessels, red blood cells (reducing oxygen supply to tissues), nervous system, heart muscles and lungs; it also affects hearing capacity.
Some of the acute symptoms are vomiting and abdominal pain, which leads to loss of appetite and ultimately to weight loss. This is something that’s often misdiagnosed in people of all ages due to its lack of easily identifiable symptoms.
Lead Poisoning in Children
Children are often the earliest to exhibit symptoms of lead poisoning and even small amounts can affect them and create serious health risks. According to the Mayo Clinic, kids can experience:
- Fatigue and irritability
- Behavior issues
- Learning problems
- Slowed growth
- Hearing loss
Lead has been found in a significant number of infant formula brands, so it is very important to check before feeding young children anything that will raise their exposure levels.
Lead Poisoning in Adults
As for adults, the symptoms listed by the Mayo Clinic can include:
- Mood disorders
- Memory issues
- Joint or muscle pain
- Increased blood pressure
- Cardiovascular issues
- Reproductive issues
Lead Poisoning in Pregnant Women
Pregnant women need to be especially careful with the amount of lead contamination in their diet and body, since it can cause issues with the developing child. Dangers during pregnancy include:
- Slow growth of the fetus
- Premature birth
- Stillbirths and miscarriages
How Else Can Lead Enter the Body?
Lead exposure through drinking water is the most common way to be affected.
However, you can also get it through other ways including:
- Eating plants that contain lead or were washed in contaminated water
- Inhalation of dust (from old paint, for example)
- Inhalation from pollution or factories
- Soil with lead contamination
- Glazes on some ceramics and pottery
- Toys produced in other countries
- Lead bullets
- Occupations with exposure to lead
What to Do When Your Family is Exposed to Lead?
If you suspect that you and your family have too much exposure to lead from to your drinking water system, you have to take precautions to prevent damage including both short-term and long-term effects.
The best way to measure human exposure levels is through blood testing, according to the CDC. This will give you information about the levels of lead contamination in your body. Contact your physician if you are worried about exposure to this or any other dangerous chemicals.
Your doctor will provide information and recommend the necessary steps to help reduce and remove the lead from your body as well as treat the health symptoms you are experiencing due to lead exposure.
In addition, make sure that your diet contains the recommended amounts of calcium, iron, and vitamin C. These are important for your overall health and are very effective in reducing the level of lead in the body.
Finally, you must address your water source and determine where the water for drinking gets contaminated.
You can contact your local health department to check your home for sources including your water service line.
Is Lead in Water Bad for Plants?
Yes! Lead does not degrade in soil and can be very toxic to plants.
According to PlantProbs.net, plants grown in soils with high levels of lead will not thrive as they are deprived of their essential nutrients and have a diminished ability to take up water. It also negatively impacts the growth, development, and chlorophyll production.
It can indirectly affect growth by killing important soil bacteria and fungi at high enough levels.
How to Remove Lead in Water
There are several steps to effectively reduce exposure to lead in your drinking water.
- Test your water. Testing can provide a water quality report including the level of lead, mineral content, and other information.
- Contact a licensed plumber to help check if there are pipes made of lead in the pipeline connecting the main water service line to your home. This includes pipe fittings and valves.
- Run the tap water before using it for drinking or cooking. This will drain the stagnant water that could be contaminated with lead from the pipes.
- Check for nearby construction projects. Some of these projects could compromise the service lines of your water and expose it to harmful chemicals like lead.
- Install filters. A good water filtration system (such as reverse osmosis) will effectively remove contaminants like lead from your water and improve drinking water quality overall.
- Clean the faucet aerators regularly since they can collect corrosion.
Does Boiling Water Remove Lead?
Experts warn that boiling your water does not remove the lead.
In fact, it increases the concentrations! This is because you are evaporating out some water molecules but leaving the lead metal behind.
It is even advisable to drink cold tap water instead of warm to minimize exposure from the hot water service line, which could have more stagnant corrosion.
Why is Lead Removal Necessary?
It is not enough to rely on your community water systems to make sure you get a lead free drinking water. In fact, they are already doing everything necessary to supply you with quality tap water free of lead from the main service line.
Aside from accidental lead exposure in the main service lines, most of the lead in your water comes from within your local pipelines. In other words, it is almost impossible to get lead-free water without taking the necessary precautions.
Given that your drinking water might get contaminated with lead sooner or later, it is much better to invest in proper removal.
You can start by making sure that your pipeline does not use materials containing lead as much as possible. If not, make sure that you prevent the lead from reaching your body by using a filter.
Lead Water Filters
Installing whole house filters can prevent the lead in your service lines from entering the pipes in your house. However, you still need to make sure that the household plumbing materials, copper pipes and solder inside your house will not cause lead and copper corrosion after the filter.
If you want to be sure lead in your household pipes cannot affect anyone, you can install point of use filters on key faucets in your house.
For most people the kitchen is the most important room since ingestion for most residents will come from cooking with contaminated water or from water/ice from lead pipes leading to the kitchen.
Under sink water filtration systems remove lead corrosion from the service lines and completely prevent the effects of exposure.
Now is the Time to Act!
Lead in water is a dangerous problem but the sooner you know the facts, the safer you and your family will be.
The first step should be to check the levels in your drinking water with a professional water test and to get blood tests for anyone you care about.
Once you know how big the problem is, you can act to reduce exposure, improve health, and prevent future issues.