Go Back

Health Effects of Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is a common metal found throughout the environment in lead-based paint, air, soil, household dust, food, certain types of pottery, porcelain, pewter, and water. Lead can pose a significant risk to your health if too much of it enters your body. Lead builds up in the body over many years and can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys. The greatest risk is to young children and pregnant women. Amounts of lead that won’t hurt adults can slow down normal mental and physical development of growing bodies. In addition, a child at play often comes into contact with sources of lead contamination —like dirt and dust—that rarely affect an adult. It is important to wash children’s hands and toys often, and to try to make sure they only put food into their mouths.

Lead in Drinking Water

Lead in droning water, although rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning, can significantly increase a person’s total lead exposure, particularly the exposure of infants who drink baby formulas and concentrated juices that are mixed with water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Lead is unusual among drinking water contaminants in that it seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away, of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household plumbing. These materials include lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, brass, and chrome plated brass faucets, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect your house to the water main (service liens). In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2% lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes, and other plumbing materials to 8.0%. When water stands in lead pipes or plumbing systems containing lead for several hours or more, the lead may dissolve into you drinking water. This means the first water drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon after returning from work or school, can contain fairly high levels of lead.

Steps You Can Take to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water

A. Let the water run form the tap before using it for drinking or cooking any time the water in a faucet has gone unused for more than six hours. The longer water resides in your home’s plumbing the more lead it may contain. Flushing the tap means running the cold water faucet until the water gets noticeably colder, usually about 15-30 seconds. If your house has a lead service line to the water main, you may have to flush the water for a longer time, perhaps one minute, before drinking. Although toilet flushing or showering flushes water through a portion of your home’s plumbing system, you still need to flush the water in each faucet before using it for drinking or cooking. Flushing tap water is a simple and inexpensive measure you can take to protect your family’s health. It usually uses less than one or two gallons of water. To conserve water, fill a couple of bottles for drinking water after flushing the tap, and whenever possible use the first flush water to wash the dishes or water the plants or other than consumptive purposes.
B. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap. Hot water can dissolve more lead more quickly than cold water. If you need hot water, draw water from the cold tap and heat it on the stove.
C. The steps described above will reduce the lead concentrations in your drinking water. However, if you are still concerned you may wish to purchase bottled water for drinking and cooking.
D. You can consult a variety of sources for additional information. Your family doctor r or pediatrician can perform a blood test for lead and provide you with information about the health of effects of lead.

Maximum Contaminant level Goal and lead Action Level Definitions

Maximum contaminant Level Goal or MCLG: The level of a contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health. The Environmental Protection Agency has set the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal at zero. The MCLG allows for a margin of safety. Action level: The concentration of a contaminant, which, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements, which a water system must follow. The Environmental Protection Agency has set the lead action level at 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/L), or 15 parts of lead per one billion parts of water. The action level is a 9th percentile value calculated from 10 percent of the water system samples with the highest concentration of lead. In order for the action level to be triggered, it requires that 10 percent or more of the water samples exceed 0.015 mg/L of lead.

Helpful State, Local, and Analytical Agencies

A. Community Water System at 501-825-7294 can provide you with information about your community’s water supply, and a list of local laboratories that have been certified by EPA for testing water quality.
B. The Arkansas Department of Health at 1-800-462-0599 or 1-501-661-2000 and your local County Health Unit can provide you with information about the health effects of lead.
C. A few laboratories you can call to have your water tested for lead:

American Interplex corporation: 501-224-5060
Sorrells Research Associates, Inc.: 501-562-8139