Get the lead out

How to make sure that your drinking water is safe.

Published November 27, 2006 1:02PM (EST)

You could have elevated lead in your water and never know. The law monitors only a water companys system-wide performance. It is not designed to monitor the lead that comes out of taps in individual homes. If you think that your water may contain high levels of lead, have it tested. Thats the only way to be sure. If you have lead service lines (the pipes that bring water to your house) or lead solder in the plumbing, there is a greater chance of having high levels of lead in your water, so getting it tested makes sense. Here are six simple tips to help you get the lead out.

1. Call your water company and ask if there are lead pipes or lead service connections in the distribution system. Then ask about your house. The company should be able to tell you or at least tell you they are not sure. Lead pipe inventories can be unreliable. Also, if you had plumbing work done before 1986, you probably have lead solder, perhaps the biggest source of lead in drinking water nationwide. There are also rare cases in which plumbers used lead solder illegally after 1986. Be sure and ask your plumber about it.

2. Find out if your childs school or day care has tested each faucet for lead in the past few years. If not, push them to test, especially if the water company has changed its treatment process significantly.

3. Test your water yourself by using an inexpensive kit from a company like Clean Water Lead Testing. Kits usually come with complete instructions and samples for both first and second draw water, which is necessary to detect potential problems with lead pipes.

4. At home, use a lead filter like those made by Pur or Brita. In fact, many types of filters can be attached to your faucet. Pick a filter based on how much water you use and your preference. The brand is not important, but check the label to make sure the filter is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation.

5. Once every two weeks clean the aerators on your faucets. Lead deposits are often dark gray or dark red, but relatively harmless particles of rust or degraded rubber can also look like this. Use Leadcheck or similar lead-test kits sold at most hardware stores to see if these particles contain lead. If so, call your water company and use a NSF-certified lead filter.

6. Run your taps before drinking or cooking with the water. If your first or second draw water has lead above about 5 parts per billion, there is a chance of a problem, but it can usually be solved by letting the water run two or three minutes. If your first draw water is above 15 ppb, you might need to do additional sampling to determine how long to flush your water, or whether you have to buy a lead filter. In general, five minutes of flushing is sufficient to eliminate lead hazards as long as the aerator is clean.

By Rebecca Renner

Rebecca Renner writes about the environmental sciences from Williamsport, Pa.

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