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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
    Resources.
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
    today. 
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
that have copper pipes with solder have high levels of lead contamination (EPA).   
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 and practices in your area.
  

 

Indicators for high lead content in your drinking water
    Lead levels in your drinking water are likely to be highest if:

     your home has faucets or fittings of brass which contains some lead, or
     your home or water system has lead pipes, or
     your home has copper pipes with lead solder, and
         the house is less than five years old, or
         you have naturally soft water, or 
         your water is acidic, (pH below 7), or
        
water often sits in the pipes for several hours, or
         you use hot water from the tap to make formula or drinks
        
you regularly notice blue/green stains on sinks, tubs, and fixtures (this is probably copper, but
             it is an indication of corrosive water which will also dissolve lead).

 

Check for lead water pipes
    
Inside your home - Locate the pipe leading to the kitchen tap, and follow it
         as far as possible until it exits your home
.  Unpainted lead pipes are dull
         gray and soft.  If you scrape the surface gently with a knife, you will see
         the shiny, silver-colored
metal beneath.
     If possible, the supply line from the water main to your home - Try to find
          a place where the supply line is accessible (water meter for example) and
          check for indications of lead pipe.
     Other types of pipe in use
         Copper - bright copper-brown color may have silver colored metal around
             the soldered joints - the solder may contain lead.
         Iron/Steel - black, may be rusty, and is quite hard. The pipe may have a
             shinny galvanized coating.
         Plastic - may be white, blue, gray, black, etc. Lead compounds may
             also be present in some plastic plumbing components.  Lead may be
             used in the manufacture of the plastic plumbing products as a
             plasticizer. Plastic plumbing components that are certified by the NSF
             International do not contain lead. Plastic materials certified by NSF are
             recommended for potable water plumbing applications.
Plumbing components made of bronze and brass contain 3% to 8% lead.

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 
everyone has taken precautions to minimize exposure - 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. 

    On average, it is estimated that lead in drinking water contributes between 10 and 20
    percent of total lead exposure in young children... Young children, infants and fetuses
    appear to be particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning
. A dose of lead that would
    have little effect on an adult can have a big effect on a small body. Also, growing children
    will more rapidly adsorb any lead they consume. A child's mental and physical
    development can be irreversibly stunted by over-exposure to lead. In infants, whose diet
    consists of liquids made with water - such as baby formula - lead in drinking water makes
    up an even greater proportion of total lead exposure (40 to 60 percent). (EPA)

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.
Additional information.

 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 (particularly if you notice
    
blue/green staining), 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
        lead.
     
    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
        contamination.
     

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.

* Please be advised that the information on this page and on this site is for general educational information only and is NOT
    intended to make any specific health claims or recommend any specific treatment method or preventative advice for any
    health issue or problem.  Consult your physician or a health specialist for specific steps to take for your specific health or
    nutrition requirements!