The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. These are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs). The maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water is zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels.
Young children are particularly at risk to lead because a dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the nervous system, learning disabilities, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.
EPA estimates that 20% or more of a person’s total exposure to lead comes from drinking water. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40% to 60% of their exposure to lead from drinking water. Below are possible warning signs of lead exposure:
- Behavior and learning problems.
- Lower IQ and hyperactivity.
- Slowed growth.
- Hearing problems.
- Ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.
- Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension.
- Decreased kidney function.
- Reproductive problems (in both men and women)
Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is mistaken as calcium and released from bones. Lead can also cross the placental barrier exposing the fetus to lead. This can result in serious effects such as:
- Reduced growth of the fetus
- Premature birth
A Few Ways to Reduce Lead in Drinking Water at Home
- Flush your pipes: Flush your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking.
- Only use cold water for eating and drinking: Hot water can contain higher levels of lead.
Note that boiling water will NOT get rid of lead contamination.
Use water filters or treatment devices: Many water filters and water treatment devices are certified by independent organizations for effective lead reduction. Devices that are not designed to remove lead will not work. Verify the claims of manufacturers by checking with independent certifying organizations that provide lists of treatment devices they have certified.
A question on your mind after reading through this may be: Can I shower in lead-contaminated water??
Yes, you can. Bathing should be safe for you and your children, even if the water contains lead over EPA’s action level because human skin does not absorb the lead in water.
To learn more, visit EPA’s webpage about Lead in Drinking Water