Lead in Drinking Water – The Problem and Solutions

Humans are very much at risk if they ingest lead especially children, six and younger. Even low lead levels are reported to cause the following types of problems; poor mental performance, low weight at birth, interference with the metabolism of Vitamin D, delayed growth and neurological development, and poor attention span.

Dr. Sue Binder, chief of the lead poisoning branch at the Centers of Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, reports, ” We see decreased intelligence, hearing problems and smaller stature as a result of lead exposure.” Binder says that even moderate levels of exposure can interfere with the ability to pay attention and may play an important role in learning disorders and antisocial behavior. According to some national health experts over 60 million homes are potential lead hazards due to lead-based paints which may disintegrate into dust. Parents in older homes should take steps to clean toys often. Children should be trained to clean their hands before eating and put only food and water into their mouths.

Drinking water may be even more hazardous than the paint dust. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that lead in drinking water contributes to about 20% of the total lead exposure for the average citizen. The EPA has also reported that more than 85% of the blood lead detected in bottle-fed infants comes from drinking formula made with lead-bearing water. A Scottish study concluded that the soluble lead levels in water were significantly higher in the home, and in the blood, of retarded children compared to the blood of healthy children.

The problem with lead is compounded by the fact that our senses cannot detect the lead levels comonly found in drinking water. You can’t smell, taste, or see the lead.The EPA has established an “action” threshold level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). If your drinking water test exceeding 15 ppb then action should be taken to reduce the levels. This very low threshold immediately indicates how toxic lead really is. But is 15 ppb safe? We are only just beginning to discover the links between human disease and enviromental contaminants. Contaminant levels that were considered “safe” just 10 years ago, are now considered toxic.

The good news is that the waters in lakes and streams normally do not contain lead. The bad news is that the water distribution system, water mains (lead lined), service lines (complete or lead lined), household copper pipes which have been joined with lead-based solder, and some faucets, may be made, in part, with lead alloys. Homes built before 1930 are likely to have lead pipes. Between 1930 and 1986, most of the homes built used copper pipe and are likely to have lead-solder joints. In 1986, US Congress banned the use of solder containing more than 0.2% lead and also set a limit of 8% lead in all faucets, piping, and pipe fittings. In Canada the use has also been restricted but manufacturers were allowed to continue to sell their existing stocks. A trip to the hardware store will identify that the product is still available and legal for sale. There has never been a method introduced to control whether lead is still being used during home construction or not.

Since you can’t detect lead in drinking water by sight, smell, or taste, the only way to be sure that your drinking and cooking water does not exceed the action threshold is to test it. Until your water has been tested, there are some actions that you can take to reduce the risk of ingesting toxic levels of lead. The lead content in your drinking water increases with the amount of time that it spends in contact with lead (lead which may be in the pipes, fittings, and/or faucets). Lead content is therefore highest in water that’s first drawn in the morning. By simply flushing the toilet and allowing the water to run from each faucet before use, the stagnated high-lead content water in the lines will be flushed out in moments. It’s also a good idea to use only cold water for cooking purposes and fill your kettle before you go to bed at night. Note: the higher the temperature of the water, the higher the rate at which lead leaches into the water.

If your water is suspected of containing lead (or has been tested and does contain lead) then one of the Ultracarb series of ceramic filters and/or a CR2500 heavy metal specialty cartridge should be used to filter all drinking and cooking water. The Ultracarb in a stand alone system has been extensively tested and meets/exceeds the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Standard 53 for lead reduction (>96% removal at 150 ppb). To understand how little lead this is, think about one drop in over 650 barrels of water. Note: remember this test level is ten times the contaminant level recommended for treatment (15ppm).