Lead is a naturally occurring bluish-gray metal found in small amounts in Earth's crust. Lead can be found in all parts of our environment. Much of it comes from human activities including burning fossil fuels, mining, and manufacturing. Lead has many different uses. It is used in the production of batteries, ammunition, metal products (solder and pipes), and devices to shield X-rays. Because of health concerns, lead from paints and ceramic products, caulking, and pipe solder has been dramatically reduced in recent years. The use of lead as an additive to gasoline was banned in 1996 in the United States. It is also a minor constituent in brass plumbing fixtures.
You can be exposed to lead in several different ways:
- Typically, lead gets into drinking water after it leaves the local treatment plant or well. That is, the source of lead in a home's water is most likely from corrosion of pipes or solder in household plumbing. (Source: USEPA)
- Children can be exposed to lead in the household by eating lead-based paint chips, inhaling house dust containing lead particles, or playing with toys that contain lead. There are greater risks of lead exposure in homes that were built before lead-based paint was banned in 1978 or if such homes are being renovated (for example, lead-based paint abatement).
- Exposure can occur occupationally. For example, working in a job where lead is used, or making certain products like ceramics with lead-containing glaze and stained glass.
- Some health-care products or folk remedies that contain lead.
Monitoring requirements for lead:
All community water systems are required to monitor for lead in drinking water. Lead is measured at household taps in high risk homes. Initially, samples are taken every 6 months. The number of samples required varies by the size of the population served by the system. For more information on the specifics of monitoring and reporting requirements see the Quick Reference Guide for the lead and copper rule.
For more scientific information on lead see ATSDR.
Health Effects of Lead
Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body.
The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children, and pregnant women. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lower IQ scores in children. Adults, especially with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead.
Reduce Your Risk
Children at risk of exposure to lead should be tested. Your doctor or local health center can perform a simple blood test to determine your child's blood-lead level.
If you want to know if your home's drinking water contains unsafe levels of lead, have your water tested. Testing is the only way to confirm if lead is present or absent.
Use cold water for drinking or cooking. Never cook or mix infant formula using hot water from the tap. Boiling your water will not get rid of lead.
Do not consume water that has sat in your home's plumbing for more than six hours. Make sure to run the water until you feel the temperature change before cooking, drinking, or brushing your teeth, unless otherwise instructed by your water utility.
Some faucet and pitcher filters can remove lead from drinking water. If you use a filter, be sure you get one that is certified to remove lead by NSF International.
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