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Lead can enter your water supply due to a chemical reaction in lead plumbing materials.
The problem is that you simply cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water. Given the numerous health repercussions of lead-contaminated water, this fact feels like a raging bull charging in your direction.
So, is all of America’s water supply contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead? Thankfully, no! You might be one of the blessed ones too.
Ironically, we can’t say for sure who is exposed to the nasty heavy metal. There is only one way to find out – a water test.
In this guide, we discuss who should be concerned about lead water contamination, how you can test for it, and most importantly, how to filter it out. Ready?
When was the last time you tested your drinking water supply to assess the level of contamination? If your answer is “never” or “too long ago to remember”, – don’t worry, you are not alone.
Many people don’t think about testing the water in their home unless there is an apparent change in taste and smell.
This is because, in the case of tap water, we assume that our water has been filtered and treated at the municipal board. What we fail to take into account is that this treatment process isn’t perfect, and as water flows from the treatment plant to your house it is subject to downstream contamination.
You may fully trust your city’s water board, but the water has to make its way through a network of pipes and then your home’s plumbing system before it flows out of the faucet in your kitchen. So, here is why you should test your water for lead:
If your house was constructed before the year 1986 – the year lead pipes were banned – you are at an extremely high risk of lead contamination. What’s more troubling is that it wasn’t until 2014 that new regulations changed the legal limit for lead in household pipes to 0.25% (from 8% lead content allowed previously).
More than nine million homes in the US still get their water from lead pipes, also called lead service lines. When the government banned lead pipes in 1986, it allowed those in the ground to continue. Hence, lead pipes are widespread and still operational in many states.
According to an estimate, 15 to 22 million people in the US still drink lead-contaminated water.
Honestly speaking, we can’t eliminate the need for lead testing for any household in the US. We advise you to follow your gut and take action. Thankfully, lead testing is neither difficult nor expensive.
Here are a few other ways lead can enter your home’s water supply:
However, as the zinc coating wears off, they become almost as toxic as the lead pipes they were supposed to replace for safety. Precisely, lead particles can get stuck to the surface of rusty galvanized pipes and eventually leak into your water supply.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to test for lead in water and remove it from your drinking supply. Here’s a guide to assess whether you are at risk of lead contamination.
You can contact your local water supplier and ask them for a water quality report, called the Consumer Confidence Report.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has obligated all water utilities to test their water and share the CCR report with its users. You can also find the reports online.
The report highlights all important information about the quality and source of your water. In addition, you will find a list of contaminants along with their level of concentration.
If you find out that the levels of lead are above the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), you’re at high risk. Remember, this is an action level; there is no safe level of lead in water.
Similarly, you can also request an individual water test from your local authority or state. But that will come at a cost, and not all facilities are qualified to conduct the test.
The best way to test your water for lead is to find a certified private laboratory. You want to ensure that the laboratory is certified by your state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Our tip: Use Tap Score by SimpleLab. You can choose between city and well water tests which all contain a lead level analysis.
Alternatively, here’s a step-by-step guide to finding and hiring a suitable lab.
This level is critical to know to select the perfect filtration method. Even if it’s in trace amounts in your water, removing yourself from the lead source is significantly important.
You may contact any local water treatment companies to test your water for free. There are numerous water filter brands that offer you free testing to determine the level of contamination in your water supply.
Similarly, you can check Home Depot and Lowe’s websites to find retailers offering a free water test. Fill out the form to schedule a free appointment or in-house consultation with water experts who can guide you about the best possible way to deal with your water woes.
The simplest way to test water at home is to buy a water lead test kit. DIY test kits are simple, inexpensive, and reliable.
Some need to be sent away to a certified lab in bottles provided by the manufacturer. While they produce 100% accurate results, the process can be time taking. Therefore, if you are only concerned about lead contamination, a reasonably-priced and simple lead testing kit (costing $20-$50) would suffice.
All you need to do is dip a strip of test paper into the sample of water you have collected. Either the strip changes color completely or you see a faint line that highlights whether you have a lead problem or not.
If you want a complete report of what’s in your water – other than lead – we suggest you use a send-away kit (costing over $250).
Please remember the best time to conduct a test is when the water hasn’t been used for at least six hours anywhere around the house.
Aging pipes and lead-rich solders are more prevalent than you think. And if you are living in a home or urban area that dates from before 1986, you will likely find at least some amount of lead is used in your plumbing.
Therefore, you must check the plumbing inside your house as well as the header pipe that connects the city line to your main water line. If any pipes are made of copper or plastic, you can find out at just one glance.
In contrast, if the pipes are grey or black, you can perform a simple test to determine whether they are made of lead or steel. Here’s how to find out:
If you are still not sure, you can contact a plumber to do the inspection.
Luckily, lead rarely occurs naturally in water. And because you’re not a part of any public water system that may contain lead pipes, you are at a lower risk of lead contamination.
With that said, your home’s pipelines, solders, faucets and so on may contain lead that can leach into your well water. Similarly, some old submersible well pumps also contain lead which could easily seep into your well.
Therefore, you must test your water yourself and replace any lead sources altogether or find a water filter to remove it. Since the government is not responsible for the quality of water from private wells you must be proactive and regularly test for microorganisms, radon, and heavy metals too.
Here is what you can do if you are sure you are at risk of lead contamination.
The first step should always be to try and replace the lead source entirely. So, replace old pipelines, an old well pump, a lead faucet – you get it.
If that’s not possible…
Lead is quite easy to remove, and therefore many water filtration systems can significantly reduce it in your water. All you need to do is look for a filter using the right type of filter media. These are:
Some high-quality water filter pitchers (like the Clearly Filtered) can effectively remove 99.3% lead. Similarly, you can easily find an under sink or whole house water filter suitable for lead water filtration.
Filters need to go under rigorous testing through NSF to be certified to remove lead. Always look for those filters that meet the criteria of NSF standard 53 (check for lead reduction rate).
For example, some activated carbon filters do an excellent job at removing lead. However, their effectiveness may be limited by the:
This is precisely why we strongly recommend getting a complete water analysis report to find out the level of lead and other contaminants in your water supply to figure which lead water filter you need.
The FDA has set the level of lead in bottled water to 5 ppb. So, you are relatively at less exposure to lead.
Quite the contrary, drinking bottled water increases your exposure to BPA, plenty of other plastic toxins like microplastics, and possibly other unregulated contaminants.
Not to mention, bottled water companies are exacerbating global climate change and wasting precious resources.
To top it all, bottled water is 300 times more expensive than regular tap water.
Bottom line: We don’t think it’s a good idea to substitute tap with bottled water. This should be avoided if possible.
Here are a few ways to reduce your family’s overall exposure to lead.
It’s undeniable that there’s no safe amount of lead for humans. According to recent research, lead exposure has caused around 412,000 annual deaths in the US.
Lead is a cumulative toxicant which means it is stored in your body over time. Therefore, even if you are exposed to lower lead levels over a long time, you may still have to suffer dire consequences.
What’s more, lead is particularly more harmful to children’s health, affecting it in more ways than one:
Similarly, adults exposed to even tiny lead concentrations in drinking water can suffer from:
If you have any questions about how to test for lead in water please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!