Lead has been used in plumbing since the ancient Romans built their extensive water systems millennia ago. In more recent times, the US used lead pipes without concern until the late 1800’s when scientists realized that it contributed to lead poisoning. Unfortunately, lobbyists worked for decades to ensure that lead was used for plumbing until 1986 when the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments banned the use of lead in potable water plumbing.
Where we find lead
Many distribution systems in major cities still have lead pipes since replacing these will take time. Lead was also used in fittings, valves and solder for welding so it can still be found in plumbing in older homes. The amount of lead leaching into your water supply depends on the amount of lead in the pipes and fittings. Water properties such as acidity, softness and temperature also affect lead content
Risks of lead exposure
Lead poisoning occurs when the levels of lead in the body get too high, causing gastrointestinal problems like abdominal pain, vomiting, and constipation. Other symptoms include headaches, poor memory, sluggishness, developmental issues in children and premature birth and low birth weight in newborns. Lead also causes infertility in adult males as well as miscarriages and stillbirths. Even low levels can cause health problems since it accumulates, making it critical that we reduce our exposure to lead.
What to do
The first thing to do is establish whether you have lead in your water supply and how much. Your municipality can tell you if there are lead service pipes in your area but testing the water coming out your taps is the best way to find out for sure. Some water suppliers will test it for you but if not, you can purchase a testing kit to gather a sample and send to a laboratory.
Depending on the levels, you might still be able to use it. First, you would run cold water for several minutes to clear out the most contaminated water and then gather what you need for consumption.
In some cases, installing a water treatment system that filters lead would reduce its concentration from your municipal supply. If you live in a house with lead pipes and fittings, get a plumber to assess your system to see where your plumbing can be replaced with lead-free alternatives. Existing systems that were installed prior to the latest rules on lead free plumbing can still be in your home making you sick.
Your family’s health is important so if you need help analyzing your home’s plumbing and replacing old lead-containing fittings and fixtures, give us a call and we’ll help you reduce your exposure to this toxic metal.