Late in 1986 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that at least 40 million Americans drink water containing more lead than the EPA's recommended exposure. Excess levels of lead can cause severe learning disabilities in children, blood pressure and neurological ailments in adults and complications in pregnancy. High concentrations of lead in the body can be fatal.
Most of the lead in drinking water comes from pipes joined using lead solder in copper plumbing. Less often, lead comes from old lead pipes connecting water mains with homes, and increasingly rarely, from lead pipes in old public water systems. In 1985 the EPA banned the use of lead in new public and private water systems and in plumbing repairs. Many homes--most homes--still contain plumbing with lead. To check for lead, look at your house's pipe joints. Joints made of lead are a dull gray while joints that are silver are made of other materials.
According to the EPA, homeowners who think they may have a lead problem can take steps to protect themselves and their families, including letting the tap run for at least two to three full minutes before using the water for cooking or drinking, to flush out lead that may have accumulated while the line was not in use and to avoid using hot water (which dissolves more lead from pipes and solder) for cooking or mixing baby formula. Water can be tested by local water supply systems or by private laboratories.
The WaterTest Corporation of New London, New Hampshire [phone: (603) 526-6756] offers a mail order test
for $31.95. The president of WaterTest says remedial actions can be taken to remove or reduce the amount
of lead in water, including replacing lead solder with silver, using special chemical filters to remove lead, and
buying tanks that remove corrosive materials from water (thus reducing the water's ability to dissolve lead
from pipes and pipe joints). The EPA says another possibility is to use bottled water for drinking; however,
the agency says, unlike public water supplies, bottled water does not have to meet federal standards. EPA
officials said that people who find high levels of lead in their water might want to have blood tests to
determine how much has entered their systems.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: water pollution; epa; lead; drinking water; remedial action; pipe; watertest corporation; testing; monitoring;