Lead, a metal found in natural deposits, is commonly used in household plumbing materials and water service lines. The greatest exposure to lead is swallowing or breathing in lead paint chips and dust.
Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, "flush" your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes as cold as it will get. (This could take as little as five to thirty seconds if there has been recent heavy water use such as showering or toilet flushing. Otherwise, it could take two minutes or longer.) The more time water has been sitting in your home's pipes, the more lead it may contain.
Only Use Cold Water for Consumption Use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead.The two actions recommended above are very important to the health of your family. They will probably be effective in reducing lead levels because most of the lead in household water usually comes from the plumbing in your house, not from the local water supply.
Have Your Water Tested After you have taken the two precautions above for reducing the lead in water used for drinking or cooking, have your water tested. The only way to be sure of the amount of lead in your household water is to have it tested by a competent laboratory. Your water supplier may be able to offer information or assistance with testing. Testing is especially important for apartment dwellers, because flushing may not be effective in high-rise buildings with lead-soldered central piping.
Common Questions and Answers Q: Why is lead a problem? A: Although it has been used in numerous consumer products, lead is a toxic metal now known to be harmful to human health if inhaled or ingested. Important sources of lead exposure include: ambient air, soil and dust (both inside and outside the home), food (which can be contaminated by lead in the air or in food containers), and water (from the corrosion of plumbing). On average, it is estimated that lead in drinking water contributes between 10 and 20 percent of total lead exposure in young children. Federal controls on lead in gasoline have significantly reduced people's exposure to lead. The degree of harm depends upon the level of exposure (from all sources). Known effects of exposure to lead range from subtle biochemical changes at low levels of exposure, to severe neurological and toxic effects or even death at extremely high levels.
Q: Does lead affect everyone equally? A: Young children, infants and fetuses appear to be particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a big effect on a small body. Also, growing children will more rapidly adsorb any lead they consume. A child's mental and physical development can be irreversibly stunted by over-exposure to lead. In infants, whose diet consists of liquids made with water - such as baby formula - lead in drinking water makes up an even greater proportion of total lead exposure (40 to 60 percent).
Q: How could lead get into my drinking water? A: Typically, lead gets into your water after the water leaves your local treatment plant or your well. That is, the source of lead in your home's water is most likely pipe or solder in your home's own plumbing. The most common cause is corrosion, a reaction between the water and the lead pipes or solder. Dissolved oxygen, low pH (acidity) and low mineral content in water are common causes of corrosion.