Lead in drinking water

The most common sources of lead in drinking water are pipes, faucets and plumbing. Some pipes that carry drinking water from the water source to the house may contain lead. Household plumbing, solder, and pipe fittings manufactured before 1986 may also contain lead.

How lead gets into tap water

The measures taken over the past two decades have reduced exposure to lead in tap water. These steps include actions taken based on the external pictogram requirements of the 1986 and 1996 Safe Drinking, Water Act and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Copper and Lead Standard. that connect the house to the main water supply. Homes without lead pipes can still have brass or chrome-plated brass faucets, galvanized iron pipes, or other welded pipes. Some drinking fountains with lead-lined tanks and other sanitary fittings not intended for drinking water (e.g. faucets, hoses, faucets, laboratory sinks) may also contain lead in their water.

Lead can get into drinking water if a chemical reaction occurs in plumbing materials containing lead. This is known as corrosion – the melting or wearing away of the metal in pipes and fittings. This reaction is more severe if the water has a high acidity or low mineral content. The amount of lead that enters the water is related to:

 

  • The acidity or alkalinity of the water,
  • The types and amounts of minerals in the water,
  • The amount of lead with which the water comes into contact,
  • The water temperature,
  • The degree of wear on the pipes,
  • How long the water stays in the pipes,
  • The presence of deposits or protective coatings on the pipes.

How do I know if my tap water is contaminated with lead?

You cannot see, taste or smell lead in drinking water. The best way to learn about the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water is to identify potential sources of lead in your household electrical network and plumbing.

Ask your water supplier if they have a service line that supplies your home with water. If you have a main service line, ask if there are any programs that can help you eliminate the main service line coming to your house. Keep in mind that any work, such as replacing the water line or service line, can increase lead exposure while on the job and up to six months after the work is completed.

Have the water tested. Many public water systems test drinking water for residents on request. There are also certified laboratories to test lead in water. Keep in mind that water sampling results may vary based on the time of day, season, sampling method, water flow, and other factors.

More information is available at National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program Listexternal icon and Contact Information for Certification Programs and Certified Laboratories for Drinking Water.external icon

Risk related to lead in water

As a safe blood level has not been established for young children, all sources of lead exposure in children should be controlled or eliminated. The EPA has set the maximum contamination level for lead in drinking water at zero because lead can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Lead is a toxic metal that persists in the environment and can build up in the body over time. The risk depends on the individual, the chemical conditions of the water and the amount consumed. For example, babies who drink formula made with lead contaminated tap water may be at a higher risk due to the large volume of water they consume relative to their body size. Bathing and showering should be safe for you and your children because human skin does not absorb lead in water.

What to do if you think you or your child has been exposed

If you think you or your child has been exposed to lead in water, contact your health care provider. Most children and adults exposed to lead have no symptoms. The best way to know if you or your child has been exposed is to have a blood lead test. Your health care provider can help you decide if a blood lead test is necessary and may also recommend appropriate follow-up if you or your child has been exposed. As blood lead levels increase, the unwanted effects of lead may increase as well.

How to reduce or eliminate exposure to lead in tap water

If you are concerned about lead in water or know your pipes contain lead, you can take steps to reduce the amount of lead in your drinking water and minimize your potential for exposure.

  • You can reduce or eliminate your exposure to lead in tap water by drinking or using only tap water that has passed a point-of-use filter, a third-party pictogram certified by an independent testing agency to reduce or eliminate lead (NSF / ANSI Standard 53 for lead removal and NSF / ANSI 42 standard for particulate removal). If you have a main service line, use a filter for any water you use for drinking or cooking.
  • You can flush your water to reduce potential lead exposure from household plumbing. This is especially important if the water has been out and in the pipes for more than 6 hours. Before drinking, rinse the pipes in your house by turning on the tap, taking a shower, doing laundry or doing a lot of dishes. The time it takes for the water to drain depends on whether or not your home has a main service line and the length of the main service line. External pictogram Drink or boil only with cold tap water. The water that comes out lukewarm or hot from the tap may have a higher lead content. Boiling this water will not reduce the amount of lead in your water.
  • You can virtually eliminate your exposure to lead in water by drinking or using only bottled water certified by an independent testing agency. External icon This may not be the most cost effective option for long term use.

More Information

Your local water authority is always your first source for testing and identifying lead contamination in your tap water. Many public water authorities have websites that include data on drinking water quality, including results of lead testing.external icon The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has information about drinking water requirements for states and public water systems. Contact EPA for more information on drinking water.external icon

This article was published by cdc.gov

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