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How to reduce the levels of lead in drinking water: this article explains simple steps you can take to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water; new EPA Standard for lead and copper in drinking water, and requirements placed on community water suppliers. Links to Lead Testing Services are also provided.
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You can spot the lead water supply piping in our photo at left. The right-hand lead water pipe is thicker than the copper water pipe in left side of the photo, and you can see the lead pipe wipe joint as well. More photos of lead water supply (and drain) piping are at LEAD PIPES in BUILDINGS.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Just how serious is lead contamination in private or public water supplies? It depends in part on where you live. In June 2010 the New York Times, citing Reuters reported:
Lead Hazard Warning: consumption or absorption of lead into the human body is hazardous, particularly for children but in fact for anyone.  & [3-21]. And at least one correspondent has expressed the view that there is no level of lead exposure for which they have not found an adverse effect.  Related Articles on lead hazards are shown at the top of this article and citations of authorities on lead hazards, testing, and remediation are at References.
In the U.S. lead levels in public water supplies has been dropping since passage of the 1974-2004 Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and public water supplies are much less likely to be a lead hazard source. But in-building sources of lead in water may remain.
In November 2010 the New York Times reported that in 2009 only 5.4% of samples had elevated lead, but in 2010 tests of 222 water samples found lead from 16-30 ppb in 14% of the samples. Although at these low levels the city did not consider the lead a clear health hazard, the city advised residents to run water for "at least 30 seconds" before drinking or cooking with it. A similar advisory was issued in 2005.
Watch out: the length of time needed to run water to flush out high-lead-level water that has been sitting in piping overnight depends on the total length of pipe between your tap and the street as well as use by other building occupants. If you run water at a tap until it is cold you have most likely successfully flushed the lines. This same principle applies to private residences.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various U.S. municipal water suppliers are concerned about lead in drinking water. As late as 1961 major cities such as New York were still installing lead water mains piping.
In 1992, as a result of legislation written in Congress (the U.S. Federal Safe Drinking Water Act), a new US EPA standard for lead and copper became effective. This standard is intended to help communities around the nation reduce their exposure to lead/copper in drinking water, and there by, lower their exposure to lead/copper from all sources, including air, lead based paint, soil and dust. Lead paint is the main source of lead poisoning; however, lead contamination from water can contribute 10 to 20 percent of a person's exposure.
In 1992, more than 60,000 public water suppliers throughout the U.S. tested various homes they served for lead/copper at household taps.
In-building sources of lead in water: Although water supplied from your water treatment plant may be free from lead or copper*, contamination from your piping system may cause lead/copper to dissolve (leach) into your water supply if:
EPA Lead limit: Although most homes have very low levels of lead in their drinking water, some homes in some communities have lead levels above the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), or 0.015 milligrams of lead per liter of water (mgL).
Under Federal Law water suppliers are required to have a program in place to minimize lead in drinking water by January 1, 1996. This program includes corrosion control treatment, source water treatment, and public education. We are also required to replace each lead service line that we control if the line contributes to lead concentrations of 15 ppb or more after we have completed the comprehensive treatment program. If you have any questions about how the requirements of the lead regulations are being carried out, call your local water department or health department.
A Brief History of Lead Exposure Level Standards
Gilbert & Weiss cite the history of the U.S. CDC's position on the acceptable levels of lead in children's blood levels as we summarize below:
Lead is a common, natural, and often useful 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 in their mouths.
Who is Responsible for Making Drinking Water Safe?
The answer depends on the answer to "Is My Water Supply Public (regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act) or Private (responsibility of the homeowner)?"
Definition of a public water system (PWSs): a public water supply system, or "community water supply" or "municipal water supply" is one that has at least 15 service connections or serves at least 25 people per day for 60 days (or more) during the year. Any such system is defined as a "community water system" or in our words, a public water supply and is regulated by federal law. The community government, typically its water department and health departments are responsible for compliance with federal law regulating safe drinking water, including both regular testing and if necessary, treatment of the water supply. The type of water treatment required depends on the water source and water quality.
Definition of a non-community or private water system: a private water supply system is smaller in size than the definition above, or serves people for less than 60 days per year. The owners of a private water supply system are responsible for assuring that the water provided by that system is safe to drink. While private water supply systems may not be regulated by federal law, local village, town, state, or county health departments and regulations may indeed apply and may set standards for acceptable drinking water for private wells in their community.
The EPA defines two types of non-community water supply systems: (Quoting from the EPA's Drinking Water Treatment)
List of Steps to Take to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water
Readers of this article should see LEAD WATER PIPING for general information about lead water and drain piping in buildings.
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