Lead contamination in drinking water presents a serious health threat to both adults and children, yet is especially harmful to fetuses, infants, and young children. Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can easily go undetected, as it is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. Exposure to lead is possible through drinking water, air, and food but an approximate 20 percent of lead poisoning is attributed to contaminated drinking water.

Following the enactment of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974, strict regulations were put in place to protect the quality of public drinking water. In 2011, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (RLDWA) was passed under the SDWA, lowering the maximum amount of lead content allowed in drinking water to a weighted average of 0.25 percent from wetted surfaces of plumbing components such as pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures. Previously, the maximum allowed amount was 8 percent, clearly showing the serious danger that lead contamination presents.

How Does Lead Get Into Drinking Water?

The main cause of lead contamination in drinking water comes from pipes with lead corrode. Other sources of lead poisoning result from the use of lead paint in older homes, soil containing lead, or food grown in contaminated soil.

Lead most commonly enters drinking water due to corrosion from household plumbing, solder and the piping used to deliver water to your home. Lead may also corrode into your tap water from brass or chrome-plated faucets and fixtures. Lead pipes and solder were typically used in older homes and buildings built prior to 1986. Since then, laws were set in place to restrict the amount of lead allowed in the production of new pipes, fixtures and solders.

Water itself is the cause of lead corrosion in plumbing systems by a chemical reaction that results in the dissolving or wearing away of the metal. The level of corrosion is influenced by several factors including water temperature, acidity and alkalinity; length of time water is in the pipes; degree of wear in pipes; and the amount of lead present. Lead corrosion can also result from chemicals, chloramines, used for disinfection of water in treatment plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Lead and Copper Rule under the SDWA in order to further enforce corrosion control treatment requiring utilities to make drinking water less corrosive to the materials used in piping and household plumbing systems.

Health Effects of Lead Contamination

Lead is so toxic to human health, even at low exposure levels, that the EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal, or safe level, for lead exposure at zero under the SDWA.

High amounts of lead in adults present a higher risk for cancer, stroke, hypertension, kidney disease, reproductive problems, and high blood pressure. Lead poses a much greater health risk in young children, infants and even fetuses. Lead bioaccumulates in the body over time and because young bodies are continually developing, bioaccumulation is facilitated making lead absorption into the body quicker. It then carries to risk of being stored in a child’s brain, blood, bones and kidneys for extended lengths of time ranging from months to years

Lead causes significant, often irreversible, damage to the health of children. Research has shown that lead can cause damage to the brain, to the central and peripheral nervous system, organ function, and to the formation and function of blood cells. It can also cause antisocial behaviors, ADHD, learning disabilities, impaired hearing, convulsions and inhibited growth. The EPA considers lead the most serious health hazard for children, which has led many toxicologists to suggest the lead standard for children’s drinking water be more severe than for adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health recommended “State and local governments should take steps to ensure that water fountains in schools do not exceed water lead concentrations of 1 ppb.” (The EPA’s current action level is 15 ppb)

Testing Your Water For Lead

Because lead is colorless, odorless and tasteless, the only effective method to determine if water contains lead is to have your water tested. Lead testing should especially be performed on homes or building built prior to 1986, but that doesn’t mean homes built after are not at risk of higher lead levels in their drinking water. Lead in drinking water is a serious danger to the health of your family and a threat that should not be taken lightly. Treatment options are available for residential and commercial buildings with higher levels of lead. Contact Home Water Solutions in Loveland, CO today at 970-840-0868 for detailed information about water testing and superior drinking water treatment systems that can reduce lead levels in your water.