The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has underscored the need for the monitoring of lead levels in our water supply. In a move to save money in financially strapped Flint, the state moved the city’s water supply source from Detroit to the polluted Flint River. In addition to pollutants in the river water, many of the lines that deliver the water to Flint residents were eroding, leaching lead and other contaminants into the water.
As the finger-pointing in that situation continues, what remains clear is that Americans need to be alert to the problem of old pipes and the dangers they can bring, especially to babies and children. Flint’s Hurley Medical Center has found that the number of children with above-average lead levels in their bloodstreams skyrocketed after Flint changed it water source.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls lead the most dangerous environmental health hazard for American children today. Babies can get about 50 percent of their exposure to lead by drinking formula made with contaminated water.
Lead levels can accumulate in the body slowly over time, so even low levels can become toxic eventually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even a blood level of as little as 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter can have a harmful effect on a child’s learning and behavior, for example.
Lead exposure can damage the body’s nervous and reproductive systems as well as the kidneys. It also can contribute to high blood pressure and anemia. Lead accumulates in the bones, and therefore it interferes with the body’s metabolism of calcium and Vitamin D.
Municipal water systems are required to test their tap water regularly and to publish the test results on an annual basis. Many of these tests also are available on local water authority websites. You also may be able to access your local report through the EPA website.
If your water comes from a private well, visit EPA.gov/privatewells.
Lead also can come from your own home’s interior pipes or from the line coming from your main supply to your home. Lead often comes from the corrosion of older pipes and fixtures and/or from the lead solder that is connecting the pipes. When water sits in those corroded pipes, lead can enter the water supply.
How can you tell if your own drinking water is safe for your family? Since you cannot see, smell or taste lead in drinking water, the CDC says the only way to know if it contains lead or not is to have it tested.
Here are some steps to follow:If you use utility water, then contact your local water authority for lead test results. Test results should fall below the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb. (This number means 15 particles of lead in a billion particles of water.)
1. If you use utility water, then contact your local water authority for lead test results. Test results should fall below the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb. (This number means 15 particles of lead in a billion particles of water.) Next, inquire about
2. Next, inquire about testing of the service pipe (header pipe) at your street.
3. If the header pipe also tests for safe lead levels, it is time to test the water within your home to see if lead is entering the water from pipes or fixtures inside your home. Many local water agencies will test your home’s water for no cost. Check with your agency.
4. If this service is not available, you can schedule a test by a state-certified testing laboratory. Visit this EPA link for more information.
5. Another option – especially if you use well water — is to use a national testing service, such as National Underwriter Laboratories. NUL will test your water for contaminants, including everything from lead to fecal bacteria. Cost can range from about $50 to $500, depending on how many contaminants that are screened.
6. You also can test your home’s water supply yourself, using a home test kit designed for that purpose. Hardware stores and home-improvement stores sell these do-it-yourself kits, and the prices usually range from about $15 to about $60 per test kit.
If you go this route, be sure to follow the package directions carefully. You should test “first draw” water, or the water that comes out of your faucet after sitting for about eight hours or overnight. This water will have the most accumulation of contaminants. As you use your household water throughout the day, you flush toxins out and may not get an accurate reading.
Have you ever tested your water for lead? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: