Lead: Problems and Solutions


The 2015 water crisis in Flint, Michigan brought the attention of the nation to the issue of dangerous levels of lead in drinking water. Years later, Flint has yet to recover, and cities across the country are discovering that they are also facing the realities of lead contamination their water supplies.

Lead in drinking water

What happens if lead is discovered in a house or municipal water system? Is there a “safe” level of lead in drinking water? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water is zero. Because lead is a cumulative toxin, it can affect multiple body systems. Experts including the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that there is no safe limit of lead exposure for children or adults.

How does lead contaminate drinking water?

Nearly all the lead in tap water is a result of corrosion that occurs after water leaves the treatment facility, not from the primary water source or the municipal treatment plant. The most common sources of lead are pipes, faucets, and fixtures. In homes with lead pipes that connect to the water main, these “lead services lines” are typically the most significant source of lead in drinking water.

Lead pipes are more likely to be found in older cities or in homes built before 1986. In homes without lead service lines, the most common problems are with brass fixtures, chrome-plated brass faucets, or plumbing with lead solder. When these pipes or plumbing fixtures are exposed to water – especially acidic water – the lead they contain can corrode and dissolve into water.

Potential health effects

Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage of the central and peripheral nervous system as well as learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.
In pregnant women, lead can increase the risk of miscarriage and can also cross the placental barrier, affecting both mother and child simultaneously.

In adults, low levels of lead can cause high blood pressure, memory loss, fertility issues, and mood disorders. In high levels, lead causes anemia, kidney problems, brain damage, or even death.

Testing for lead

Since you cannot see, taste, or smell lead dissolved in water, testing is the only sure way of telling whether there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water.

If you are on municipal water supply, you can contact your water utility to ask for a copy of their latest Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). It’s important to note, even if a city’s water report passes lead testing, there could still be lead in a home’s metal water taps, interior water pipes, or the pipes connecting the house to the main water line. The only way to know for sure is to have your home tested.

If your water comes from a household well or other private water supply, you will need to have your water tested with a specific well water test kit or by your state, country or municipal water department.

The Water Quality Association (WQA) strongly recommends that water testing be conducted at each point of use. The testing should follow appropriate sampling procedures, capturing lead levels after a period of disuse. These tests should be completed before a specific water treatment product is selected. Because water conditions can change, homeowners should test their water before the treatment system has been installed and continue testing routinely after installation.

Treatment for lead

Water filtration systems that use reverse osmosis or have a whole house lead filter can effectively reduce the amount of lead in contaminated water.

It can be hard to select the correct water filtration system. Understanding the cause of the lead contamination will allow a user to select the best system for their needs. A point-of-entry (POE) system can treat water tainted with lead from distribution pipes. A point-of-use (POU) system should be used if pipes or fixtures inside a home contain lead.

POU: Lead reduction cartridge filters

you can install a filtration system right at your tap to treat your drinking water. You can choose from countertop, undersink, and possibly refrigerator filters. (Note: Refrigerator filter availability is dependent upon your refrigerator model; Tier1Plus refrigerator filters are certified for lead reduction.)

Countertop filter systems

Undersink filter system

Refrigerator filters

POU: Reverse Osmosis System

To effectively treat not only lead, but also a long list of other contaminants including arsenic, copper, fluoride and total dissolved solids, you can install an undersink reverse osmosis system.

Reverse Osmosis system

POE: Whole House Lead Removal Systems

If your water is contaminated from lead outside your home, you can install either a whole home cartridge system or a more robust system designed for lead reduction.

Whole house iron and lead reduction water cartridge kit

Lead Reduction whole house system

Important Note: Never boil water contaminated with lead, especially for cooking. According to the CDC, heating or boiling water will not remove lead and, instead, increases its level of concentration. Hot water is also more corrosive than cold water and will cause lead pipes to dissolve more quickly, so cooking with lead-contaminated water is especially dangerous. Installing a performance certified water filtration system is the only effective way to entirely remove lead from your home’s drinking and cooking water.

The dangers posed by Lead are severe and should be treated seriously. There are many options available to help address lead concerns. Water testing and water treatment are key to ensuring that you and your family avoid lead contamination and its symptoms.

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