How To Test For Lead In Your Home Water Supply
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, may have you asking, “Does my home’s water contain lead?”
It’s possible. The Environmental Protection Agency says between 10% and 20% of our exposure to lead comes from contaminated water.
It’s even worse for the youngest and most vulnerable: Babies can get between 40% and 60% of their exposure to lead by drinking formula mixed with contaminated water.
Lead “bio-accumulates” in the body, which means it stays and builds up over time, so ongoing exposure, even at extremely low levels, can become toxic.
While the EPA says you can’t absorb lead through the skin while showering or bathing with lead-contaminated water, you certainly don’t want to drink it, cook with it, make baby formula with it or use it to brush your teeth.
Just like in Flint, lead can enter your home when lead plumbing materials, which can include faucets, pipes, fittings and the solder that holds them all together, become corroded and begin to release lead into the water.
Corrosion is most likely to happen when water has a high acid or low mineral content and sits inside pipes for several hours, says the EPA.
While homes built before 1986 are the most likely to have lead plumbing, it can be found in newer homes as well. Until two years ago, the legal limit for “lead-free” pipes was up to 8% lead.
As of January 1, 2014, all newly installed water faucets, fixtures, pipes and fittings must meet new lead-free requirements, which reduces the amount of lead allowed to 0.25%.
But that doesn’t apply to existing fixtures, such as what is found in many older homes and public water suppliers.
Here’s a guide to assessing whether you’re at risk.
Start by calling your municipal water supplier. (If your water comes from a private well, look for information from www.epa.gov/privatewells.)
Ask for a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report, which lists levels of contaminants found during tests, which federal law requires be run on a regular basis.
Many public suppliers put yearly reports online, so you can also find it yourself by typing your ZIP code into the EPA’s web site at www.epa.gov/ccr.
You’ll want to see lead levels below the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion. If you discover a lead reading at or above that level on the report, take action.
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