Poison in Your Pipes

Meet the Contaminant: Lead

Tens of decades ago, tomatoes were thought to be a poison fruit for wealthy Europeans. Lower social classes were exempt from this myth due to one small difference between the two classes: Pewter tableware. Unaware of the lead content of the tableware and the effect it has on the human body, the wealthy used pewter plates to serve food. Combined with the acidity of the tomatoes, the tableware would leak lead into the food. This often resulted in the death of the diner.

Today, lead is most commonly used in household plumbing fixtures. Although the greatest exposure to lead poisoning is through inadvertently ingesting lead paint chips and dust, exposure from drinking water is not far behind. Lead enters tap water through the corrosion of household plumbing systems, brass or chrome-plated faucets, and even use of hot water for cooking. Newer homes are less at risk of exposure to lead as homes built after 1986 are often made with non-toxic metals. This is partly due to the fact that a prohibition on using lead in household plumbing systems has been in effect since 1986.

Health Effects

Exposure to lead above the action level can lead to a wide range of health effects among people of all ages. Children who are exposed may suffer from delays in mental and physical development including attention deficit disorder, nervous system damage, and learning disabilities resulting in decreased IQ levels. Infants that are fed mixed formula receive up to 60 percent of their lead exposure from drinking water, leading to neurosis. Lead provides the biggest risk to developing bodies, as it leaves a more permanent effect on them. Over the years, adults can develop high blood pressure, kidney failures, fertility problems, nerve disorders, and much more.


In 1986, the Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) included a ban on using lead in household plumbing materials. The ban prohibits the use of any pipes that contain lead in the installation and repair of any facility or home that provides water for human consumption through a public water source. However, this does not mean that your water is 100% lead free. Even with this ban in effect, your water may still contain traces of lead as the term “lead free” was defined to mean that solders and flux may not contain more than 0.2% lead and pipes may not contain more than 8% lead.

In January 2011, Congress set forth in motion the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act to amend section 1417 of the SDWA in regards to the use of lead in plumbing systems. They set the effective date of January 2014 to ensure that affected parties had plenty of time to transition into new requirements. End use water sources must be certified through NSF/ANSI Standard 61 to be lead free. The standard sets health effects criteria for the materials used in the production and delivery of water to consumers.

Take Action

There are many steps you can take to reduce lead in your drinking water besides just replacing the entire plumbing system in your home. First and foremost, have your water tested for lead. This can be done through any water testing facility for $10 to $100. Home Depot and a select few other retailers offer water testing for free. Once you know exactly what you are dealing with, you can take some simple precautions to eliminate lead include flushing your pipes for two minutes before drinking the water any time a particular faucet has not been used for more than six hours. Most of the lead in your water supply comes from the plumbing in your home rather than the municipal water supply. It is important to know that the longer the water has been sitting in your pipes, the more lead is in the water. Always flush your water until it is cold, and use only cold water for consumption. Hot water is more likely to contain lead due to the heat intermingling with your pipes. To conserve water, consider showering, running the dishwasher, or washing your car to flush your pipes. Afterwards, make sure you flush your tap water for five to thirty seconds to clear the water to tap. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for updates from your water utility, as they will inform you if you need to flush your water for longer due to local conditions.

Filter your Water

The best thing you can do for your home is to invest in a good quality water filter that will remove the lead content from your water altogether before using the water for consumption. For those that cannot afford whole home water treatment systems, there are plenty of point-of-use systems that are available for your drinking water needs. Try an Aquasana over counter or under counter filter to prevent lead from entering your body. Our drinking water systems are certified to remove over 99% of lead in tap water. They’ll also leave in all the healthy minerals so that you really are getting the best out of your tap water. Only you can control what comes out of your water faucet and in to your body. Take the necessary measurements to ensure the safety of your family today.


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