Learning disablities, reduced IQs, shortened attention span, hypertension and behavioral problems in children can be linked to drinking lead contaiminated water. Adults may suffer from high blood pressure, damage to the brain, nervous system, stomach and kidneys.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 40 million Americans consume lead contaminated water on a daily basis. The EPA also estimates that 480,000 cases of learning disorders in children, and 560,000 cases of hypertension in adults, occur each year in the United States as a result of lead contamination.
How does water become contaminated with lead?
Lead is not normally found in water until it passes through pipes and plumbing fixtures that contain lead. Homes built before 1986 are likely to have lead pipes, fixtures or solder. Homes built after 1986 that contain "lead free" plumbing, are also at risk. "Lead free" plumbing may still contain up to 8 percent lead. Most common problems are with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures that can leach significant amounts of lead into the water. As the water sits in the pipes, lead leaches into the water, particularly into hot water, contaminating the water that is delivered from the faucet.
To find out if your water is contaminated with lead, testing can be done through a laboratory at a cost of between $20 and $100. Home test kits that test for lead and other contaminants are also available and typically cost less than $20. The home test kits are simple to use and, although not as accurate as laboratory testing, will provide reliable test results.
There are several simple ways to protect against consuming lead contaminated water.
Allowing the water to run from the tap for several minutes before using it will flush the lead contaminated water through the pipes and deliver cleaner water. Use only cold water for drinking and cooking since hot water leaches more lead from pipes and fixures. There are disadvantages to running the water before using it though; it's wasteful and children may not always follow the procedure or wait long enough before drinking the water.
Installing a water filter at the point of use, normally the kitchen faucet, will remove any lead from the water. Cost of a kitchen faucet water filter is under $30. Ongoing costs for replacement filter cartridges will vary with amount of water used and the life span of the filter, but will typically be less than $50 per year. Water filters are the most effective method of removing lead and other dangerous contaminants. When considering purchase of a water filter, be sure the filter is certified by NSF International to remove lead.
Boiling water before using it will not remove lead. In fact, as water boils, the lead becomes even more concentrated, increasing the level of contamination.
Most of us have lead that is already stored in our bodies from years of exposure. The human body excretes most of the lead we inject but it also stores a portion of it in our bones and teeth. Buildup of lead in a woman's body can pose a risk to the fetus during pregnancy. Lead can cross from the mother's body to the baby starting around the 12th week of pregnancy. Even low levels of lead can result in low birth weight and slowed development.
The EPA suggests that following a diet low in fat and high in calcium and iron, including dairy products and green vegetables will help reduce the amount of lead that our bodies absorb. If we eliminate the source of the lead going into our bodies and follow a healthy diet, some of the lead in our bodies will be excreted over time.
Herbal cleansing products on the market today claim to remove heavy metals, including lead, from our bodies. Although there is little scientific research into the benefits of herbal cleansing programs, many people use these products on the advice of naturopathic practitioners.