Chances are you have read, thought, or heard about lead contamination in water. I’m not sure if anyone will say the town Flint, Michigan for another 30 years without it being synonymous with lead contamination in the water.
Are you concerned about lead in your water? Just want to know more about it? Keep reading – this article is for you.
What is Lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring element, atomic number 82, and labeled as “Pb” on the periodic table of elements.
While lead has some beneficial uses, it is toxic for humans and animals to come in contact with it.
You might commonly associate lead with what is found at the end of your pencils – interesting fact: There is no lead in Pencils. Pencils actually use a non-toxic mineral called “graphite”, lead was used by the Romans in ancient times. (Ever heard of the fall of the Roman empire? Well… jk)
How is Lead Harmful?
The toxicity of lead was discovered in the 19th century.
“Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in soft tissues and bones; it damages the nervous system and interferes with the function of biological enzymes, causing neurological disorders, such as brain damage and behavioral problems.”
Lead is especially harmful to children; It can cause severe effects on physical and mental development.
Even a very low amount of lead is considered to be dangerous. That is why lead from paint-dust particles or in a water supply can be a major concern.
How do People Get Exposed to Lead?
Some of the most common types of lead exposure include:
- lead-based paint (can be found in old homes and buildings – before 1978)
- water supply
- Canned goods from foreign countries
- Imported candies
- Toys and jewelry (before 1976)
Like stated above, lead is a naturally occurring element so it’s common for some amount of lead to be in the soil of your backyard, or even in the air from dust particles.
How Does Lead Get in My Water?
The EPA restricts utility districts from allowing their water to be contaminated with more than 0.015 mg/L (or parts per million) of lead, while the contaminant level goal from the EPA is zero. These standards seems great, and it seems that we might not have to worry at all, but here’s the problem:
These water supply companies are only required to test a certain amount of samples. It is not like they have a probe that is constantly reading the amount of lead going through the water plant at any given time. They take samples at a required number of locations, a required number of times, and that’s what they base their compliance to the law.
To answer the original question: The pipes used to deliver water to ones home are underground, some of them have been their for a very long time. Many of those old pipes are made of a materials that include lead. So as those pipes begin to corrode, the pipes starts releasing contaminants, such as lead, into the water.
The lead is coming from the pipes in the distribution, not the source water or from the treatment plant. Which is a misconception that many do not understand.
The Problem with Lead Contamination in Municipal (City) Water
There lies the problem – the pipes.
Imagine a top-down view of your street, your neighborhood, your city. Each one of the those homes have a water supply line that supplies water to the meter in front of the house. Consider the thousands of miles of underground pipe that distributes water throughout your city.
From a New York Times article:
“New York City has 7,000 miles of water mains, enough to send water to Seattle and back.”
Many water lines are even buried underneath or beside roads, making replacing them even more difficult and costly.
Think about how old many cities in the United States are, many of the water lines are still delivering water to homes to this day in ductile iron pipes that look like the water mains below:
Isn’t that crazy? There is a chance that the water coming out of your faucets first went through water mains like this to get there.
Water lines are hard to replace and very expensive. Check out this quote from an NPR interview;
“it’s a 30-inch water main, so very large. It was installed in Washington, D.C., in 1860, before Abraham Lincoln moved in to the White House. And it’s in use every day. It has been in use every day for the last 154 years. And that’s just kind of amazing.”
Wow. Now that particular pipe is actually made of wood.
How to Remove Lead from Water
Okay, there’s a problem, but how can lead be removed from water? First you need to know that there are two types of lead that need to be removed from water, soluble (dissolved) and particulate (insoluble).
There are two primary methods for removing lead from water in a home.
- Solid Block & Precoat Adsorption Filters – Generally a mixture of activated carbon and a lead absorbent.
- Reverse Osmosis – The RO membrane keeps the lead from coming through the water
Something to keep in mind, not all carbon block filters are designed or certified to remove lead, and that “leads” us to our next section.
How to Know That Your FIlter is Designed and Certified for Lead Reduction
As stated before, even though some carbon-block filters are designed to remove lead, not all of them are created equal. You need to make sure your filter is certified to remove lead.
Your filter should be:
- Either NSF-53 (for standard filters) certified or NSF-58 (for reverse osmosis) certified
- AND for NSF-53 certified filters, it should also claim to remove lead – some filters that are NSF-53 certified are not designed to remove lead
If your filter does not meet this criteria, don’t make the mistake of assuming your filter is removing lead.
Why We Recommend Reverse Osmosis
Lead is one of many contaminants of concern. Reverse Osmosis makes it possible to remove many other toxic contaminants while also removing lead. It provides the purest water available for residential applications.
Reverse Osmosis can properly remove a large number of contaminants, including:
- Heavy Metals
- Biohazard Chemicals
- And other chemicals and contaminants
Why only remove lead when you can remove other toxic contaminants as well? Reverse Osmosis is the high-standard of purified drinking water and it’s tested and certified. Please feel free to reach out to us if you have more questions about Lead removal.
Want to learn even more about whole-home water purification in Knoxville and Nashville? Check out our Knoxville and Nashville Residents Guide to Water Purification.
You can also contact our team!