Lead In Drinking Water

Lead is a naturally occurring element present in the earth's crust. It has received attention over the years as a contaminant in drinking water for good reason. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) calls it, "a highly toxic metal the agency considers a major public health threat" (1). It can cause damage to both adults and children, although in children the effects tend to be greater (i.e. mental retardation, kidney damage, delayed development, etc.). Lead leaches into driniking water from lead containing plumbing fixtures, pipes, and solder.. If you are concerned about possible lead contamination in your drinking water, there are a few steps that you can take to lower the amount of lead present (2):

  1. Flush your cold water pipes if the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer. If there has been high water activity at a different fixture, your pipes only need to be flushed from 5-30 seconds, or until your water reaches its coldest point. If there has been little water activity, then the water may need to be flushed for two minutes or longer. Basically, the more time that the water is sitting in your pipes, the greater the chance that lead has leached in. Each faucet in the house must be flushed individually. Flushing the water in your bathroom sink will not effect the water in your kitchen.

    Another option is to use only water from the cold water tap for drinking, cooking and for making baby formula. Hot water from the tap may contain a greater amount of lead, since heat increases the rate at which lead leaches from your pipes.

    You may wish to use bottled water for cooking and drinking. Bottled water is regulated for lead by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A U.S. EPA drinking water standard exists for lead, with an MCL of 15 ppb; monitoring for this level began in 1992 (1). Additional information about lead can be found at the following sites.

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  1. "Reducing Lead Levels in Drinking Water", Water Review Technical Brief (1991). Volume 6, Number 2; A publication of the Water Quality Research Council, in Association with the Water Quality Association, Lisle, Il. URL: http://www.wqa.org/WQIS/Reducing-Lead.html
  2. "Lead and your Drinking Water", April, 1987. Office of Water, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington D.C. URL: http://www.epa.gov/OGWDW/dwh/c-ioc/lead.html
  3. Lead Regulations and Policy, Wetnet: Water Resources Education. Purdue Cooperative Extension Service, Purdue University. URL: http://ingis.acn.purdue.edu:9999/education/regulate.html
  4. Dorman, Dale. July 1994. Your Drinking Water: Lead. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Services. URL: http://www.ces.uga.edu/pubcd/c819-14w.html
  5. Extoxnet: http://ace.orst.edu/cgi-bin/mfs/01/factsheets/leadpump.quest

This page was prepared by S.L. Keyser, June 1997, UCD EXTOXNET FAQ Team.
Revised by B.T. Johnson, October 1997