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Lead in Drinking Water

Posted by James Layton on
Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is a naturally occurring bluish-gray metal found in small amounts in the Earth’s crust. Although lead occurs naturally in the environment, activities such as burning of fossil fuels, mining, and manufacturing contribute to the release of lead. Lead has many different industrial, agricultural uses. It is used in the manufacture of lead-acid batteries, solder, pipes and devices to shield X-rays. An estimated 1.52 million metric tons of lead were used for various industrial applications in the United Stated in 2004.

Potential for human exposure

Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder.

Adults absorb 35 to 50% of lead through drinking water and the absorption rate for children may be greater than 50%. Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.

Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Anemia

Lead contamination in drinking water is of special concern to pregnant women! Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium and is used to help form the bones of the baby. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also cross the placental barrier exposing the baby to lead. This can result in serious effects to the mother and her developing child, including:

  • Reduced growth rate
  • Premature birth

Protecting against lead

Homes may have internal plumbing materials containing lead. The more time water has been sitting in your home's pipes, the more lead it may contain. When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking. Use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead. Run cold water until it becomes as cold as it can get. Boiling the water will not get rid of lead contamination.

You cannot see, taste, or smell lead dissolved in water. The US Environmental Protection Agency states that testing is the only sure way of telling whether there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water. Avoiding contaminated water is possible with the Health Metric heavy metals test.

The test is easy to use and will let you know if your water contains harmful levels of lead, copper, iron and mercury. If heavy metals are detected you have the option of filtering your water with a reverse osmosis filtration system or buying bottled water. Be sure to test your water filter to make sure it is functioning properly. You can also use the Health metric heavy metals test on bottled water to make sure it has been properly filtered.


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