Lead is highly toxic.† Our total lead exposure is much lower than
it was a decade ago, thanks to bans on lead-based paints, the removal of lead
from gasoline, and our no longer using lead solder in food cans.† These improvements have however increased
the relative importance of lead in drinking water.† Water now accounts for 15 to 25 percent of a
childís total exposure.
Very little lead occurs naturally in water.† It gets there primarily from corrosion of
plumbing that contains lead.† The
severity of lead contamination also depends on the water's chemistry.†† Very soft or acidic water corrodes plumbing
and fixtures and leaches out lead.
Service pipes from
Many homes built from
about 1910 to 1940 have service pipes made
of lead.† Newer homes may have lead
pipes too, especially in colder
regions.† In Chicago, lead pipes were
required until 1986, when a nationwide ban on lead pipes took effect.
Leaded solder in
Most household plumbing
consists of copper pipes connected by solder that is Ĺ† lead and Ĺ†
tin.† Lead-soldered plumbing less
than five years old is particularly likely to leach lead into drinking water.† A 1986 federal law banned further use of
leaded solder on drinking water pipes.
Most chrome-plated faucets are made of
brass, which contains 3% - 8% lead.
Itís a good idea to have your water tested for lead.† Mail-order labs charge about $15.† Ideally, lead concentration should not
exceed 5 parts per billion (ppb).† A few
simple steps can reduce levels:
When you use your tap for the first time, let the water
run for about a minute, or until it is as cold as possible.† Water sitting in pipes overnight accumulates
During the day, let tap water run for a few seconds
before drinking.† Better yet, keep a
pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator.
Use only cold water for cooking and drinking; hot water
dissolves more lead from pipes.† Using
cold water is especially important when preparing baby formula.
If your lead levels are over 20 ppb,† you should consider drinking bottled water
or installing a treatment device.†
Reverse-osmosis devices, distillers and activated alumina cartridges can
be quite effective at lowering lead levels.