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"The more we learn about lead, the more we find adverse effects at lower and lower levels,"
says Joel Schwartz, senior scientist at the EPA. "Drinking water is now a major source of
lead for a sizeable portion of the population. It's a matter of considerable concern."
The age of
your home can be an important indicator of whether lead might be a
contaminant in your drinking water.
This information comes mostly from the EPA and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural
Most well or city water does not naturally contain lead. Water usually picks up lead inside your
home from household plumbing that is made with lead containing materials.
Boiling the water will not reduce the amount of lead. Boiling so that significant amounts of water
evaporate will actually concentrate any lead and other non-volatile contaminants in the water.
Lead-contaminated drinking water is most often a problem in houses that are either very old or
very new. Up through the early 1900's, it was common practice, in some areas of the country, to use
lead pipes for interior plumbing. Also, lead piping was often used for the service connections that join
residences to public water supplies. (This practice ended only recently in some localities.)
Plumbing installed before 1930 is most likely to contain lead. Copper pipes have replaced lead
pipes in most residential plumbing. However, the use of lead solder with copper pipes is widespread.
Lead solder was banned in the US in 1987, but the ban has not been universally adhered to. Experts
regard this lead solder as the major cause of lead contamination of household water in U.S. homes
New brass faucets and fittings can also leach lead, even though they are labeled "lead-free".
Scientific data indicates that the newer the home, the greater the risk of lead contamination.
Lead levels decrease as a building ages. This is because, as time passes, mineral deposits form a
coating on the inside of the pipes (if the water is not corrosive). This coating insulates the water from the
solder. But, during the first five years (before the coating forms) water is in direct contact with the lead. More likely than not, water in buildings less than five years old has high levels of lead contamination.
The article, Drinking Water: Lead, contains more important information about this topic. The
information above pertains specifically to US homes, not necessarily to homes in other
countries, but it would be wise to check out plumbing codes in your area.
Within one week's time I got these
two questions concerning
Even though I run this site and should know better, I am sometimes lulled into a false sense of
security that everything's OK "out there" - that people know about the dangers of lead, and have
all taken precautions about it - both in their homes and in their drinking water. These questions,
however, prompted me to place even more emphasis on lead education for those at risk.
Lead is a serious threat to human health and
can adversely affect almost every
organ in the human body. The most sensitive is the central nervous system, but
immune system, red blood cell, and kidney damage are also common effects. Lead
exposure during pregnancy can lead to spontaneous fetal abortion, decreased infant size
and irreversible brain damage. Children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning
because they absorb and retain more lead in proportion to their weight than adults.
Learning difficulties and reduced growth rate are common effects of childhood exposure.
Since lead may enter your
drinking water from the pipes in your home or apartment
building, the only way to know if there is lead in your drinking water is to have it tested
at your tap (see below). The EPA’s regulation for lead in drinking water allows up to
15 parts per billion of lead in up to 10 percent of all houses that water providers sample.
If test results show more than 15 ppb of lead in over 10 percent of samples, then water
providers must develop a plan for reducing lead levels. However unless your home is
included in that sample, the fact that the water utility complies with the lead regulation
does not give an individual family assurance that their tap water is safe.
Read full report.
have the greatest health risk from lead exposure, even with short term exposure, if:
you are pregnant - During pregnancy, hormone changes can cause lead stored for years in a woman's
bones to be released into the blood. This lead probably won't affect the mother, but could pose risks for
an unborn baby - Understanding lead poisoning.
If your drinking water has
not been tested for lead, or if it does contain lead,
seriously consider taking the following precautions.
If you remove the lead from your
drinking water, you do not have to
the water has not been used in a particular faucet for six hours or longer, run
An adequate calcium intake can help protect against
lead poisoning. It has been observed in|
animals and humans that both the absorption and retention of lead decreases as calcium
intake increases. Many children at risk for exposure to excess lead are also those who live at
the poverty level, and may consume a diet with insufficient calcium. Therefore, increasing
consumption of low-cost, calcium rich foods can reduce the severity of the effects of lead
exposure. The RDA for calcium for children ages 1 to 10 is 800 mg per day.
Nutrition and Childhood Lead Poisoning. From another source, dietary calcium may also help
prevent the transfer of lead from a pregnant women to her developing fetus.