Water Quality: Is Lead Really a Threat?
If your drinking water is cloudy or discolored, it’s a sure sign you have some kind of water quality issue. Unfortunately, many of the contaminants that pose the most serious threats to your family’s health are colorless, odorless and invisible to the naked eye, so your water can be crystal clear but potentially harmful.
Lead is the perfect example. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, so you can’t detect its presence without water quality tests. Classified as a heavy metal, lead has detrimental effects on humans. Specifically:
- In children, it has been associated with physical and mental development issues, can contribute to attention deficit problems and may affect learning capacity.
- In adults, it can contribute to high blood pressure, impair kidney function and has been described as the forgotten contributing factor when doctors diagnose cases involving kidney failure.
Lead is a regulated contaminant, so public drinking water is routinely tested. In most cases, water is 100% lead-free when it leaves the treatment plant, but it can easily become contaminated in route. Here’s how that happens:
- Water is described as a universal solvent because it can dissolve many compounds. As a result, treated water can pick up lead particles as it travels through old municipal lead pipes or pipes joined with lead-based solder.
- This same effect continues as water travels through the pipes in your home. Until 1986, lead pipes and solders were widely used for water supply lines, so if you live in a home built before then you might have an issue.
- Faucet fixtures often contain a significant amount of lead. According to the EPA, brass and chrome-plated brass fixtures are the most likely culprits because water can leach lead from the fixture, and if the water is hot, it accelerates the process.
To reduce lead levels in tap water, more stringent standards were adopted in 2011 regarding the use of lead compounds in pipes, fixtures, joints and solders. These standards won’t go into full effect until 2017, but there are actions you can take today:
- Have your water professionally tested to detect lead levels and determine the threat potential.
- Open the cold water tap and run water for several minutes before you drink it or use it to prepare food, beverages or baby formula. If the water has collected lead while sitting in the pipes, this helps flush out the most contaminated water.
- Avoid drinking hot tap water, and don’t use it to prepare food, beverages or baby formula.
If you’re seeking a more effective solution, invest in faucet filters or a whole-house filtration system to remove lead and other heavy metals from your drinking water. It’s the safest course of action.