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Water Contaminants
  Water and Health   Water Quality   Water Can Heal   Contaminants Facts   Air and Health


Drinking Water Contaminants - Lead

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Q: Why is lead a problem?

A: Although it has been used in numerous consumer products, lead is a toxic metal now known to be harmful to human health if inhaled or ingested. Important sources of lead exposure include: ambient air, soil and dust (both inside and outside the home), food (which can be contaminated by lead in the air or in food containers), and water (from the corrosion of plumbing). On average, it is estimated that lead in drinking water contributes between 10 and 20 percent of total lead exposure in young children. Federal controls on lead in gasoline have significantly reduced people's exposure to lead. The degree of harm depends upon the level of exposure (from all sources). Known effects of exposure to lead range from subtle biochemical changes at low levels of exposure, to severe neurological and toxic effects or even death at extremely high levels.

Health Threats From Lead

Too much lead in the human body can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells.

You have the greatest risk, even with short term exposure, if:

  • you are a young child, or
  • you are pregnant.
Sources of Lead in Drinking Water

Lead levels in your drinking water are likely to be highest if:

  • your home has faucets or fittings of brass which contains some lead, or
  • your home or water system has lead pipes, or
  • your home has copper pipes with solder, and
    • the house is less than five years old, or
    • you have naturally soft water, or
    • water often sits in the pipes for several hours.

Q: Does lead affect everyone equally?

A: Young children, infants and fetuses appear to be particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a big effect on a small body. Also, growing children will more rapidly adsorb any lead they consume. A child's mental, physical, and neurological development can be irreversibly stunted by over-exposure to lead. In infants, whose diet consists of liquids made with water - such as baby formula - lead in drinking water makes up an even greater proportion of total lead exposure (40 to 60 percent).

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