Basic Information About Lead in Drinking Water: Is It Safe?
There's no safe level of lead in drinking water. But how does lead make its way into our water in the first place? Here's basic information to know about detecting lead and filtering it out.
Did you know that an estimated 10 million homes across the US receive their water through lead pipes?
Or that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named lead poisoning the "number one environmental health threat in the US for children ages 6 and younger”?
The water scandal that started in 2014 in Flint, Michigan has shed light on lead-contaminated drinking water across the country. But actual change has come more slowly, particularly in public schools.
Lead is so toxic to the human body that no amount of lead in drinking water is considered safe. This is why the EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal at zero.
When it comes to understanding your family's risks of exposure to lead, it's also important to know which resources are available to you. That way, you can become a more informed, proactive consumer.
With this in mind, let's delve into ways to ensure safe, clean drinking water for your entire family.
Generational Impacts of Lead in Drinking Water
Lead in drinking water is bad news for everyone involved. In kids, it can cause a variety of physical and developmental delays with lifelong implications, including reduced birth weight, hearing loss, brain damage, seizures, and lower IQ.
And when it comes to adults, lead contributes to everything from high blood pressure to cancer, stroke, kidney disease, and much more.
Unfortunately, lead can accumulate in the body over time and get stored in the bones as calcium does.
In pregnant women, this stored lead may get released with the maternal calcium that's meant to help with the formation of infant's bones. This process ramps up when the mother fails to eat enough calcium-rich foods during pregnancy.
But lead can affect fetuses in other ways as well because it's capable of crossing the placental barrier. In other words, lead poses a generational threat — one passed from parents to children in the earliest stages of life and beyond.
Although much of the public focus gets placed on exposure to lead at home, it lurks in many other locations too. It can impact drinking water at public schools and in the workplace.
Limiting your family's exposure to it should involve a multi-pronged approach.
Do You Have Lead in Your Drinking Water?
There's a variety of ways that lead can get into your family's drinking supply at home, including leaching from your water pipes and also flowing from primary water sources outside of your control.
No matter how lead finds its way into your home, you need an effective way to stop it. Of course, this requires knowing that it's there in the first place.
And let's get one misunderstood issue out of the way right now. Articles related to Flint discussed major water quality issues related to "foul-smelling, discolored, and off-tasting water." But this doesn't mean you can see, smell, or taste lead in water.
Flint's water represented a "perfect storm" of safety issues from excessive levels of bacteria (including E. coli) to a host of harmful pollutants.
But what does all this mean for you and your family? Smelling your water, staring at it, tasting it, or otherwise trying to ascertain lead levels with your five senses simply isn't always effective. If it's crystal clear and odorless, don't assume you're off the hook.
You must get your water tested to detect lead. Period.
Where to Start
Your water may already get tested on an annual basis. If that's the case, then you can get a copy of your water provider's annual water quality report, also known as a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). A new one is made available to customers by July 1st of each year.
To gain access to a copy, check your water provider's website (most providers post a copy online) or contact them. Or visit the EPA's CCR page for more information. You may even be able to request an electronic version of the report through the EPA's website.
The EPA also makes available a variety of resources to help you better understand your CCR, which is easily the most affordable way to stay on top of water quality issues in your area.
But what if your water comes from a private well, either on your property or within your neighborhood? You'll have to test the water yourself or hire someone to do it.
Get Your Water Tested and Then Act
Fortunately, lead-test kits cost only between $20 and $100, which is a relatively small price to pay to ensure your family's health and well-being. There are also companies that will test your water if you send them a sample.
You can find out more about lead testing for your home and also check out a list of accredited laboratories to get started. Having this done represents your best safeguard against lead.
And what should you do if your water does contain lead?
First, don't panic. The most important step in the war against leaded drinking water is knowing the problem and being aware that there are many ways to remove the lead.
Three of the most effective methods are reverse osmosis, carbon filtration, and distillation. In a pinch, you can also flush your pipes with cold water.
Learn more about each of these methods for removing lead right now. That way, you'll have both temporary and more permanent tools in your arsenal when it comes to the fight against lead.
But don't stop there.
Get School and Work Water Supplies Tested
Depending upon the length of your children's school days and whether they attend before- or after-school programs, your kids spend a significant amount of time drinking water at school.
But do you know how your public schools rank when it comes to water quality? Unfortunately, many perform poorly — if they're tested at all.
What about the schools that take the lead threat seriously and have had their water tested? 44 percent received news that at least one sample exceeded the recommended limit. Not surprisingly, schools that tested water from more taps found higher lead concentration levels.
This is sickening when you consider how much time your children spend playing, learning, eating, and drinking at these facilities. The faucets at your children's school provide water for cooking lunch, drinking, preparing juice, and more.
How can you take back your child's health? Speak with your school administrators about testing all the drinking water outlets in the school and on the playground. In the meantime, send your kids to school with filtered water.
And what about your workplace? Check out the CCR for your office's water supply and approach your employer about water testing.
Because minimizing lead exposure is a generational concern, you need to take it seriously at work as well.
Get Tested for Lead Exposure
Getting to the bottom of lead exposure often requires a multi-tiered approach that affects a variety of areas in your life. But as you can see, you've got plenty of resources to help you get started.
Lead poisoning doesn't always come with a smoking gun. It represents an insidious environmental threat that can destroy the health of you and your loved ones over time.
And it can be difficult to recognize. After all, many of the most obvious symptoms only occur after severe exposure.
That's why it makes sense to get your family tested for lead. For your children, ask their pediatrician to do a simple blood test. If their results come back high, then it's time to talk to your pediatrician and local health agency about next steps.
If your kids got tested in the last couple of years, speak with your pediatrician about whether a new test is in order.
If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, the same applies to you. Contact your physician to find out whether or not you should get tested.
These precautions will not only provide you with peace of mind but could help you stop the generational effects of lead exposure.
Regain Control Over Your Family's Health
The thought of lead in drinking water at home, in the office, and at school is unsettling. But it represents a real, sometimes shocking reality for individuals across the nation.
But you, as a consumer, have more control over the water that you and your family members drink than you may realize. It's time to take charge and regain control of your family's health through safe, secure water sources.
At WaterZen, we can help. We've got the information you need to not only stay informed but also to take action, securing a healthier, brighter future for you and your family. Browse the rest of our site to learn more.
WaterZen exists to improve your family's health by making information about the water you drink more accessible, straightforward, and easy-to-understand. We do this by providing clear, simple water-quality information for your area based on data from your local water provider, unbiased comparisons, health standards, and expert opinions.
The way we see it, when you're informed about the quality of your water and then empowered to protect your family (and your community), you've achieved "water zen".