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Lead Risks

"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
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. 
    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 lead contamination.  
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.

 You have the greatest health risk from lead exposure, even with short term exposure, if:  
you are a young child - check out (Protect Your Children From Lead Poisoning), or
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.
    Install one of the several treatment methods that are effective at removing lead: activated carbon filtration, ion exchange resins, reverse osmosis, or distillation (make certain filters are NSF certified to remove lead). 

      If you remove the lead from your drinking water, you do not have to 
    worry about the other precautions below.  There are water treatments that remove only lead, however, if you make the decision to remove lead you might want to look at a more comprehensive treatment solution that would protect against a wider range of contaminants as well as lead.

    If the water has not been used in a particular faucet for six hours or longer, run the cold
        water tap until the water is noticeably colder, about a minute, to "flush" the pipes. The
        longer water has been sitting in your home's pipes, the more lead and other dissolved
        metals the water may contain.  Buildings built prior to about 1930 may have service
        connectors made of lead. Letting the water run for an extra 15 seconds after it cools
        should also flush this service connector.  You may wish to fill water bottles and store them
        in the refrigerator for later use after flushing the water lines.   Flushing may not be
        effective in a high-rise building.
    Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and especially making baby formula. Hot
        water dissolves materials better than cold water and thus may contain higher levels of
    Frequently clean the screens and aerators in faucets to remove captured lead particles.
    If building or remodeling, only use "lead free" piping and materials for plumbing.  Still, as
        noted above, even "lead free" brass fixtures probably have traces of lead in them.
    If you are served by a public water system contact your supplier and ask whether or not
        the supply system contains lead piping, and whether your water is corrosive. If either
        answer is yes, ask what steps the supplier is taking to deal with the problem of lead

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 PoisoningFrom another source, dietary calcium may also help
    prevent the transfer of lead from a pregnant women to her developing fetus.