A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns of the hazards of lead in the nation's drinking water and says the agency is considering rules to reduce by more than half the amount now tolerated as safe. Taking lead into the body through eating, drinking or breathing, has been found to cause a number of health problems, including slow learning in children, hypertension in adults, and possible effects on pregnant women. Research has found that lead in water is possibly the largest source of lead in the human blood stream.
The rules, not yet formally proposed, would become final in 1988 and would reduce the amount of lead permissible in water flowing in taps in homes to 20 parts per billion from the current standard of 50 parts per billion.
The report says the lower levels would mean a monetary saving to the country of $800 million a year, half in health and remedial education costs and half in the cost of repairing pipes, water heaters, meters and other equipment corroded by water containing lead. Most of the lead in drinking water comes from lead solder on pipe joints within the home.
The report says that the estimate of 38.1 million people exposed to high levels of lead was probably low. Agency officials say that if the maximum permissible level of lead in drinking water were reduced to 15 parts per billion, the monetary benefit to the nation would double to $1.6 billion a year.
Some experts, including the president of a private water concern who worked with the EPA on the study,
believe the correct standard should be set lower--10 parts per billion--and they advise individuals to take the
responsibility to monitor their own water and take whatever remedial action is needed.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
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