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Lead in Your Drinking Water

Lead in Your Drinking Water

Lead in drinking water has certainly been in the news.  Earlier this year, there were the horrific stories of lead in the drinking water in Flint, MI.  Then, a few weeks ago, the city of Highland Park shut off faucets in city-owned facilities after they tested high for lead.  The EPA mandates that water contain lead at no more than 15 parts per billion (ppb).  In Highland Park, one faucet tested at 97 ppb, and another one at 21 ppb. In Flint, by comparison, some homes tested at more than 10,000 ppb.   

As you know, lead can be extremely dangerous for children.  While the main sources of lead exposure are lead-based paint, lead contaminated dust, and lead contaminated soil, as these examples show, lead can be present in drinking water.

While water is always treated and tested at water filtration plants, there is some risk that it could be tainted by lead after it leaves the plant.  There are three ways this can happen.

  • Between the plant and your house.  If the water service pipe between the city water main and your house is made of lead, there is the possibility that the lead can leach into the water.  This risk is reduced through the use of anti-corrosive agents.  In Flint, the problem was caused because anti-corrosive agents were not used once the water entered the city’s water line.
  • Through the solder that connects the copper water piping inside your house.  If your house was built prior to 1986, the solder could have lead, which could leach into the water.
  • From valves and fixtures made of brass.  It is now illegal to use lead in brass, but older valves and fixtures could have lead, which could leach into the drinking water.  This is what happened in Highland Park.  

Additionally, elevated lead levels may occur if water is left standing in pipes for several hours, or if the lead pipes are disturbed for repair work. 

So what can you do?  Here are a few simple ideas:

  • Run your water to flush the system for at least three minutes before using it to drink or cook.
  • Do not cook with or drink hot water from the tap, because lead dissolves more easily in hot water.  Use cold water instead.
  • Remove the aerator from your faucet and clean it.  While the aerator is off, run the water to flush any debris.

Here are a few more ideas:

  • If your house was built in 1986 or before, consider replacing the solder that connects the water piping in your house.
  • Replace any brass valves and fixtures that may contain lead.
  • Consider having your water tested by a lab certified by the Illinois EPA.  If it tests too high, consult with a plumber on ways to remedy it.

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*Based on research conducted January - August 2016