Lead is a chemical element that is used in the construction of a number of materials that we are exposed to every day. This includes a number of manufactured products such as pencils, batteries, ceramic tiles, and much more. But while lead (symbolized on the periodic table as Pb) is an effective external building property, if ingested, it can pose a serious threat to human health.
Most people have heard of lead poisoning and they know that lead in water supplies is a common and dangerous problem. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about lead in water, how it occurs, its impact on your health and safety, and the various testing methods.
What Causes Lead in Water?
In the majority of cases, lead in water is caused by corroded lead pipes. Lead is one of the most common materials in pipes and water systems. Though the construction of lead pipes was banned in 1986 by congress, the existing service lines have not been removed or replaced. Additionally, the use of lead in the production of fixtures such as faucets was only banned in 2014 and many of these products still contain trace amounts of lead.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken steps to hold public water officials accountable for maintaining healthy, clean water. However, there are many local governments that have neglected proper water testing and chemical treatments to prevent contamination and corrosion of lead pipes.
What Are the Health Effects of Ingesting Lead in Water?
For adults, ingesting lead can lead to long-term health risks including heart disease, reduced kidney function, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, memory and concentration problems, and more. Lead poisoning has also been observed to cause reproductive damage in both men and women, and pregnant women are at significantly increased risk of miscarrage and premature labor.
While the effects of lead poisoning are serious for any population, children are at the greatest risk due to the impact it has on their developing brains. Lead in children’s drinking water causes an increase in health conditions, impacting healthy development and even risking lives. Some of the notable developmental consequences of lead poisoning in children include:
- Learning disabilities
- Behavioral problems
- Low IQ
- Stunted or slowed growth
- Impacted hearing and speech
Are There Acceptable Lead Levels in Drinking Water?
While the EPA has developed a maximum action level of 15 parts per billion, this action level is not recommended to be used to determine the risk to public health. There have been documented cases in which medically significant health problems have been caused by lead contamination below the EPA action level. There is no known safe level of lead for human consumption, and all steps should be taken to get lead content down to zero in the interest of public safety.
What to Do if You Suspect Lead in Your Drinking Water
Contact Your Local Water Utility Authority
Your first step should be to contact your water utility company and request a copy of their most recent Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), which is a yearly report required of all community water providers by the EPA.
Get Health Testing for Household Members
Most people who have lead poisoning don’t experience symptoms, so it’s important that all household members, especially young children, visit their healthcare provider to test for lead poisoning.
Test Lead Levels in the Water
Because lead is clear, odorless, and tasteless, the only way to truly determine if your water is contaminated with lead is through environmental testing.
How To Test for Lead in Water
Most Pb testing methods involve collecting water from your regular tap and sending it into a lab for testing. If you live in Multnomah County and your water is supplied from a community source, you can request a free at-home Pb testing kit here.
At JSE Labs, we offer at-home-testing kits for both public water sources and private wells. Just give us a call and we’ll provide you with an appropriate testing container and clear instructions on how to collect your sample.
We also test for more than just lead. At JSE, you can get complete and comprehensive testing of a variety of contaminants and element levels. We offer four specific water tests and can help you determine the appropriate one for your needs and water source:
- Analysis of Pb levels only
- Analysis of OHA 3 only (arsenic, nitrate, and coliform bacteria)
- Dual analysis of both Pb and OHA 3
- Full analysis of Pb, OHA 3, hardness, iron, manganese, silica sodium, iron, and total dissolved solids
Once you speak with one of our experts, we’ll send you the necessary materials so you can collect your sample and send it directly to us.
Do You Need Lead Testing for Your Water Supply? JSE Can Help!
If you’re concerned about lead content in your drinking water, don’t hesitate to seek out proper testing. We provide state-of-the-art analysis and surveys for a variety of environmental concerns including, lead, asbestos, mold, and more. We offer both in-home testing kits (limited supply) and in-person testing. Additionally, JSE Labs is the only lab in the state of Oregon to be accredited by AIHA’s Environmental Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program for Pb in paint.
Contact us online or call us at one of our labs to schedule an on-site visit from our experts or send in a sample of your own for testing!
Lisa started in the industrial hygiene and environmental industry in 1992 as an asbestos microscopist and began performing building inspections for asbestos, lead paint, and other hazards in 1994.
“This career has been an amazing experience, traveling for work to perform inspections both locally and abroad to locations such as Hawaii and Germany. My real love however is being in the laboratory and assisting our wonderful clients.”