While there are many sources of lead exposure, today there’s growing awareness that some homes have lead in water pipes, fixtures and plumbing. Lead presents health concerns for people of all ages and particularly for infants and young children.
Have you stopped to consider if your home is lead-free?
The water leaving the treatment plant and traveling through water mains is almost always free of lead. However, lead is sometimes present in pipes connecting older homes to the water system or in fixtures and home plumbing. Your utility can adjust the water’s chemistry at the treatment plant to minimize the possibility of lead dissolving into the water from lead materials, but there are additional steps you can take at home.
1. Check your pipes and plumbing
Find out if you have a lead service line. If so, consider replacing it.
Lead service lines are mostly in older homes. Service lines typically enter the home in the basement or crawl space. If the pipe is lead, it will have a dull finish that shines brightly when scratched with a key or coin. Using a magnet can also help you identify a lead pipe, because even a strong magnet will not cling to lead.
In most cases, ownership of these lines is shared between the utility and the homeowners. Contact your utility about replacement options.
Inspect your plumbing
You can also hire a certified plumber to inspect both your service line and other materials in contact with your drinking water. Lead solders, pipe fittings and brass fixtures can be potential problems.
2. Test your water
Contact your utility to see if it provides home water testing. If not, it can probably tell you how to contact a certified laboratory to have your water tested.
3. Protect your Household
There are steps you can take right away to reduce the possibility of lead in your water:
Run the Tap Before Use – Lead levels are likely at their highest when water has been sitting in the pipe for several hours. Clear this water from your pipes by running the cold water for several minutes– which allows you to draw fresh water from the main. Your water provider or plumber can help you assess the right length of time. You can use this water on house plants or to flush toilets.
Clean aerators – Aerators are small attachments at the tips of faucets which regulate the flow of water. They can accumulate small particles of lead in their screens. It’s a good idea to remove your aerators at least monthly and clean them out.
Use Cold Water for Cooking – Always cook and prepare baby formula with cold water, because hot water dissolves lead more quickly, resulting in higher levels in water.
Filter the Water – Many home water filters are effective at removing lead. If you purchase a filter, make sure it is certified for lead removal and that you maintain it properly. Find out more on filter certification at www.nsf.org.
Infogrpahic courtesy of Nursing@USC, the online family nurse practitioner program at the University of Southern California's Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.