Lead Contamination in Drinking Water – What You Need To Know

lead contamination in water

Drinking tap water is one of the most convenient and cost-effective amenities in the home but it can also be taken for granted. What if you were poisoning yourself or your family without even realizing it – simply by drinking tap water that has been contaminated by lead?

Drinking and cooking with water that contains any level of lead contaminates can be extremely harmful for both children and adults. Here are the hard facts that you need to know about lead poisoning so you can continue to enjoy your drinking water safely.

What is lead and where does it come from?

Lead is an element that does not break down. Its symbol, Pb, comes from the Latin word for “plumbum” which has gone on to mean plumbing. This harmful element does not break down into less damaging materials which is why it has been banned from its previous uses in petrol, paint, plumbing and food containers which resulted in various cases of lead poisoning. However, those living in older houses are still likely to come into contact with lead from peeling paint, dust and drinking water.

How does lead get into my drinking water?

Lead can seep into your drinking water when the pipes that contain lead corrode over time – particularly old pipes and plumbing that are made with lead or brass. This can often happen when the water has high levels of acid or low levels of mineral content and they can break down the pipes, allowing these toxic metals to seep slowly into your drinking water.

What are the health risks of drinking lead-contaminated water?

Lead, or any metal for that matter, is toxic to the human body even at very low exposure. The people who are most at risk are babies, young children and pregnant women as lead can be passed on through breast milk.

Children under the age of six years old whose bodies are still undergoing mental and physical development are the most at risk. Their exposure to lead can result in nervous system damage, learning disabilities, reduced growth, organ damage, hearing impediments and more. In the worst case scenarios, lead consumption can result in seizures, comas and can even be fatal.

Adults who are exposed to lead can suffer heart problems, hypertension, kidney problems and fertility issues in both men and women.

Tips to reduce lead in your drinking water

• Do not use hot tap water to cook food or to put into drinks or baby formula as lead builds up a lot faster in hot water. Always use cold water from your tap boil it instead.
• Let your tap run for approximately 45 seconds to a minute before drinking it or brushing your teeth. The best way to judge this is to wait until the water runs cooler. This will get rid of any water that has stayed in the tap for too long, allowing the lead to dissolve into the water. Always run your taps in the morning or when you get home from work when the water has been sitting in the pipes for long periods of time.
• Clean your tap filters regularly as lead can build up over time. To clean your faucet screens or filters, remove them and run them under the water for about five minutes until the water runs clear.
• Upgrade and replace your plumbing. Older houses are far more likely to use lead or brass pipes which are much more at risk to lead contamination.
• Don’t boil your water! Be aware that boiling water is not effective in removing lead. It can even increase it.
• Test your tap water for lead. There are plenty of companies that will come out to your home and test your water for lead contamination if you are worried.
• You could also try water treatment methods such as osmosis, distillation and filtering to get rid of the lead. There are plenty of filtration methods you can employ to reduce lead exposure.
• If you’re still concerned, stick to bottled water for drinking and cooking around the home.

What other tips and advice do you have for ensuring your family stays safe from lead contamination in your drinking water? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Steve Johnson on Flickr


About the Author:

Lauren Morling
Lauren Morling is a South African freelance writer living in London. She has a passion for digital marketing and has been published in The Touristin, a Luxury Travel Blog, Life As a Human and the Daily Mail. Lauren works in digital marketing and has a journalism degree from the University of Cape Town.

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