Lead and Drinking Water

reverse osmosis banner vertical

Lead is a naturally occurring metal that was used regularly in a number of industrial capacities and commonly used in household plumbing materials and water service lines. Lead was used as a componenet of paint, piping, solder, brass, and as a gasoline additive until the 1980’s. And, the greatest exposure to lead is swallowing or breathing in lead paint chips and dust. Research has confirmed that lead is highly toxic.

Lead into Drinking Water

Lead is rarely found in source water. Mostly, lead contamination occurs after water has left the treatment plant due to corrosion of plumbing materials. Since water is naturally corrosive, it corrode the pipes and plumbing through which it passes. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. However, new homes are also at risk: even legally “lead-free” plumbing may contain up to 8 percent lead. Grounding of electrical circuits in homes to water pipes and galvanic actrion between two dissimilar metals may increase corrosion that could cause lead to leach into the water. Customers who soften their water or otherwise change its corrosivity can affect the lead content of the water.

The Health Effect of Lead

Ingestion of lead can post a series health risk to humans. For Adults, lead exposure is usually limited to certain occupational and recreational souces. The major sources of lead exposure for children is deteriorating lead-based paint and the accompanying dust and soil contamination. In babies and children, exposure to lead in drinking water above the action level can result in delays in physical and mental development, along with slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. In adults, it can cause increases in blood pressure and fertility problems such as miscarriages, premature births, low birth-weight. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.

Health Tip

  1. To help block the storage of lead in your child’s body, serve your family meals that are low in fat and high in calcium and iron, including dairy products and green vegetables.
  2. Use cold water for drinking or cooking. Never cook or mix infant formula using hot water from the tap. Boiling your water will not get rid of lead.
  3. Make it a practice to run the water at each tap before use. Run the water until you feel the temperature change before cooking, drinking, or brushing your teeth.
  4. Do not consume water that has sat in your home’s plumbing for more than six hours.
  5. Some filters such as reverse osmosis system can remove lead from drinking water.


Quote Left EPA published a regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water known as the "Lead and Copper Rule." Quote Right

EPA published a regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water. This regulation is known as the Lead and Copper Rule (also referred to as the LCR or 1991 Rule).The treatment technique for the rule requires systems to monitor drinking water at customer taps.If lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb or copper concentrations exceed an action level of 1.3 ppm in more than 10% of customer taps sampled, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion. If the action level for lead is exceeded, the system must also inform the public about steps they should take to protect their health and may have to replace lead service lines under their control.

Test the lead level

You can have your water tested for lead by a certified laboratory. (Lists are available from your state or local drinking water authority.) Testing costs between $20 and $100. Since you cannot see, taste, or smell lead dissolved in water, testing is the only sure way of telling whether there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water. You should be particularly suspicious if your home has lead pipes (lead is a dull gray metal that is soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key), if you see signs of corrosion (frequent leaks, rust-colored water, stained dishes or laundry, or if your non-plastic plumbing is less than five years old. Your water supplier may have useful information, including whether the service connector used in your home or area is made of lead. Testing is especially important in high-rise buildings where flushing might not work.

Reading next