Lead is odorless, colorless and tasteless. And it is a killer. It is estimated that more than 400,000 people a year die due to past exposure to lead. Additionally, even small exposure to lead can lead to serious health problems, with younger children being most at risk to lead poisoning, which can severely affect physical and mental development.
Although the most common sources of lead poisoning in children are lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings, drinking water is another potential source. Here we go into more detail on that.
The most common sources of lead in drinking water are lead pipes, faucets and plumbing fixtures in the home. Household plumbing fixtures, welding solder and pipe fittings made prior to 1986 may also contain lead. Welding solder is particularly noteworthy, because even if fixtures are not made of lead, if the solder contains lead, it can enter the water supply. Additionally, pipes that carry drinking water from the water supply to the home may contain lead.
Lead enters the water supply when the plumbing materials containing lead experience corrosion, or the dissolving or wearing away of metal from the pipes and fixtures. Corrosion can be more severe when the water has high acidity or low mineral content.
To find out if your tap water contains lead, check with a plumber to see if any parts of your plumbing system (faucets, fixtures, pipes, solder) contain lead. Also ask your water provider (often your municipality) if you have a lead service line providing water to your home. Then also ask to have your water tested.
Here are some things you can do to reduce or eliminate exposure to lead in your drinking water:
- It may be expensive, but replace any lead-containing pipes, faucets, fixtures and solder in your home that may contain lead.
- If you do have items in your home containing lead that will come into contact with your water supply, or if you have a lead service line:
- Only use tap water for drinking or cooking that has been run through a “point of use” filter certified by an independent testing organization. A “point-of-use” filter is a filter that only treats water at a single tap, such as the kitchen sink. If you have a lead service line, you’ll need a filter such as this for any tap from which you might ingest water, even in the bathroom where you brush your teeth.
- Before using tap water for drinking or cooking, run the faucet COLD for one to two minutes. This is especially important when you have not run water for more than six hours.
- Drink or cook only with cold tap water. Warm or hot water could have higher levels of lead, and even boiling this water will not reduce the amount of lead.
- As a last resort, only use bottled water for drinking or cooking.
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