Lead in Drinking Water: What are the Health Risks and How to Prevent It

Lead is a highly toxic bluish gray metal that gets into drinking water via lead pipes, faucets, and fixtures. If ingested in the body, lead can wreak havoc to the central nervous system and nearly every organ in the body.

Lead Pipes Are Ancient History

Lead has been used for centuries to create water pipelines and other products, including lead-based paint, batteries, ammunition, metal products like solder and pipes, and tools to shield X-rays. Clean Water Action  noted that the Roman Empire used lead for water lines and a multitude of other uses. Lead is easy to extract and as far as metals go, is very flexible. New uses for lead came about during the Industrial Revolution, which brought about lead paint and leaded gasoline.

Ingestion of old lead paint is the most popular way people are exposed to lead contaminants. Aging paint begins to peel and to disintegrate into dust. Through hand to mouth contact or the contamination of food or water, the lead enters the body. People who are employed in construction, manufacturing and solid waste/recycling are also subject to the risk of lead exposure.

Humans can be exposed to lead through inhalation, ingestion, and on rare occasions, through the skin. Lead gets into drinking water when pipes and other plumbing fixtures start to rust and disintegrate. A chemical reaction between water and your plumbing creates corrosion, which dissolves and wears away metal. Typically, homes built before 1986 have pipelines made of lead. To avoid lead poisoning, such lines should be replaced with “lead-free” pipes that now have a small percentage of lead.

Berkey filter systems are able to remove 99.9% of lead from your drinking water. For more information, you can read this article.

Health Impact of Lead Poisoning

Because their bodies can absorb more lead, children under the age of six are more susceptible to the dangers of lead. That is because a young child’s brain and nervous system are still evolving. If you think your child has been exposed to lead, your pediatrician can give your child a blood test to determine if there is lead contamination. Your local health department can also refer you to available resources should you suspect lead exposure.

  • Lead poisoning is more harmful to children aged six and under.
  • High levels of lead exposure cause major harm to the brain, blood and kidneys.
  • Lead poisoning can cause hyperactivity in children.
  • Even at low levels, lead poisoning can permanently cause lower cognitive ability.
  • Long-term exposure could cause reproductive health issues and fertility problems.
  • Lead exposure during pregnancy could impair the fetus, decrease growth rates and bring about premature birth and/or miscarriage.

Protection from the Possibility of Lead Poisoning

Lead contamination can be identified by simple-to-use paint and soil test kits that are sold online and at many hardware stores. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the potential for lead exposure could be reduced if the following measures are followed:

  • Before drinking or cooking, run water from the tap for 1-3 minutes until it becomes as cold as it can get.
  • Only use cold water for drinking and eating. Typically, cold water will not have lead in it.
  • At no time do you use hot or warm water from the tap to prepare infant formula. Warm water or boiling water only makes the lead concentration worse, so do not do it!
  • Do not ingest water that has sat idle in the tap for more than six hours.
  • Schedule an annual test from professionals to determine if lead or other impurities are in your water lines.
  • Decrease the chances of lead contamination by selecting the right kind of filter, such as reverse osmosis, distillation and carbon filters specifically designed to get rid of lead.
  • Whenever possible, replace water lines that are old and corroded.
  • Stay alert to any construction or maintenance in your neighborhood. Construction could cause the release of more lead from a disrupted lead service line.
  • Clean your faucet screen or aerator often. Sediment, lead particles or debris can gather in the aerator and get into your water.

Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. This law allows the EPA to determine the margin of safety and possible health risks present in drinking water levels. The EPA Lead and Copper Rule mandates water systems monitor water corrosion. Water systems must gather samples from sites in their systems that are liable to have lead-containing plumbing materials.

Scroll to Top