Tips for Lead-Free Tap Water

According to the EPA, exposure to lead in drinking water can result in delayed physical or neurologic development in infants and children, and can cause high blood pressure, kidney problems, and cancer in adults. Moreover, a growing body of evidence suggests adverse health effects result even at blood levels below the 10 µg/dL “level of concern” at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends intervention.
 
“Lead in water is an underappreciated source of lead intake,” says Bruce Lanphear, a pediatric epidemiologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. According to estimates from the CDC, on average drinking water makes up about 10–20% of children’s exposure to lead. Although paint and dust are the most common causes of elevated blood lead in children, in some cases tap water can be a primary source of exposure.
 
Drinking water typically starts out virtually free of lead because most source waters naturally have very low levels. The metal is introduced into tap water as it passes through lead service lines and across lead-soldered joints or as it sits next to brass and bronze fixtures that contain lead. In recent years lead contamination in tap water has been triggered by treatment changes that alter the water chemistry, destabilizing lead-bearing mineral scales that coated lead service lines and corroding lead-bearing solder, pipes, faucets, and fixtures. 

Tips for Lead-Free Tap Water:
Lead exposure is a serious concern for children’s health. Lead impairs children’s brain development, and many scientists believe no dose is safe. Because the law is not designed to monitor tap water lead levels in every individual home, people are ultimately on their own to ensure the safety of their drinking water.

Residents can have their tap water tested by their local health department. The EPA also provides links to state listings of certified water testing laboratories at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/labs/index.​html . Parents can find out if their children’s school or day care center has tested each faucet for lead in the last few years and push schools to have them tested, especially if the locality’s water treatment process has changed significantly.

The EPA recommends cleaning home faucet aerators about once every 2 weeks and letting tap water run until it “becomes as cold as it will get” before drawing water for use, which can take 2 minutes or longer. The agency also recommends using only cold tap water for cooking, drinking, and preparing baby formula.

Pur™, Brita™, or ZeroWater® pitcher filters can reduce dissolved lead and other metals. These products use a cation/anion exchange process. Brita and Pur faucet attachments have screens that can trap sediments and a compressed block of carbon and zeolite that captures contaminants as water flows through. The standard models of these products retail for less than $50 but require filter replacements.

Other filtration systems, which can be installed at the sink, use reverse osmosis to remove lead and other contaminants from tap water. These systems typically cost in the hundreds of dollars and operate by passing water through a semipermeable membrane that traps contaminants.

Consumers should make sure the filter they select is certified to comply with the National Sanitation Foundation/American National Standards Institute (NSF/ANSI) Standard 53 for drinking water treatment units; for reverse osmosis systems, NSF/ANSI 58 is the applicable standard. Certification verifies that a water sample was independently tested to verify the treatment system could reduce lead to 0.010 mg/L or less.

Water distilling systems also remove lead and other contaminants from water. These come in portable and countertop models and also run into the hundreds of dollars in cost. Water distillers separate water from contaminants using evaporation and condensation.