Is Your Home Supplied with Water Contaminated by Lead Pipes?

dripping faucetThere are important lessons to be learned from the recent release of a CDC report on the 2004 crisis of lead in the water in the Washington DC area. After years of denial and stonewalling, the CDC acted only under sustained pressure from safe-water advocates, the media and Congress.

In addition, the CDC and EPA have done almost nothing to alert the public about the report, even though it raises major questions about U.S. government policies on lead pipes. The report puts in question the safety of drinking water in numerous houses in cities that include Washington DC, Chicago, Detroit and Providence.

According to the Washington Post:

"When exposed to lead, young children risk suffering diminished IQ. The main threat in old homes comes from lead in paint and dust, and the added danger posed by water is subtle and hard to quantify. But the new report says it's real."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Many people believe a fundamental job of the government is to protect the public from contaminated drinking water that will make you sick or kill you.

But just how good is the government at keeping your water safe?

The government is fairly good at protecting you from water that will not kill you from a bacterial infection, although some pathogens such as Giardia and Cryptosporatum will survive the processing in water treatment plants and end up in your tap water. Occasionally a local outbreak of this problem will even kill a few people who have a compromised immune system. Unfortunately, that's the only good news when it comes to your home's water supply.

The bad news is that even under ideal water treatment conditions your home's tap water is filled with all sorts of chemicals and metals that can be hazardous to  your health. These hazardous substances are allowed in the water even under the most stringent government regulations.

For more information about the toxic disinfection byproducts from chlorination found in your tap water, please see this previous article.

But a greater concern for many people is the amount of heavy metals found in tap water. What is the safe level of these waterborne heavy metals, and why are they found in your drinking water in the first place?

How Much Heavy Metal is Considered Safe?

When it comes to a safe level of lead, one of the more common heavy metals found in tap water, the answer to this question may surprise you. The safe level of lead in the human body is zero.

Lead is dangerous to your health at any level and should be avoided.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains that an "action level" on lead is greater than 15 ppb (parts per billion), but most scientists are now in agreement that there is no safe level of lead in the human body.

Even levels as low as 3ppb are dangerous to human health, and a study shows that subclinical lead levels in children under five lead to lower IQ scores.

Water treatment plants do try to remove as much lead as possible, but there is still a legal limit of lead that remains in your tap water after it's been treated at an urban water treatment plant. Lead may also be present naturally in ground water and well water.

But a much greater concern is not the amount of lead that shows in the pipes at your home's doorstep, whether from an underground well or from a city's water treatment facility. The real concern is the amount of lead that becomes added to the water once it reaches your doorstep!

Are Your Home's Water Pipes Killing You?

The source of lead in your home's drinking water is amplified by three common plumbing techniques with a very questionable safety history. The greatest amount of lead found in your home's drinking water frequently comes from lead service lines, lead interior plumbing, or copper pipes connected with lead solder.

You see, the main problem with lead starts once the water line from your municipal water supply reaches the entrance to your property.

Older pipes represent the most common hazard, but even newer pipe systems are allowed to include lead in their design, and the problems start once the chlorinated water, which is very harsh and corrosive, hits the lead found in your home's pipes.

How the Lead Gets Into Your Water

The harsh chlorinated water flowing out of urban water treatment facilities, if allowed to sit in your home's pipes (which is exactly what happens when you turn your home's water off) will cause lead to leach into the pipe water.

This is why many experts recommend that you run your tap water for a few minutes every morning, to clear the accumulated lead out of the water flowing into your house.

Beginning in 2008, the EPA began recommending partial replacement of lead service lines in older plumbing systems, but many specialists, including some at the EPA, believe partial replacements actually make the problem worse, at least temporarily. That's partly because the work can dislodge lead particles within the pipes.

So according to the EPA itself, the solution to lead in your home's water can come only from a complete replacement of all the lead found in your home's plumbing!

The truth is you're not very likely to replace your home's entire plumbing, including the service lines that run from the street into your home. Not many people have the time or money to do this.

And the government just cannot afford to provide lead-free water to your home. This would take trillions of dollars the government just does not have to spend, especially in this time of budget crisis on all levels of government. Even in California, where they are trying to pass a law that would give that state's water the lowest lead levels in America, lead would nonetheless still be allowed to be present in tap water.

And as evidenced by the recent handling of a 2004 CDC report on dangerous municipal water in the Washington, DC area, even when the government does uncover unsafe water, they are not likely to publicize the results!

The solution to keeping lead out of your home's drinking water is to take the matter into your own hands and purchase a good water filtration system, which I will discuss in a moment. But first, you should understand the danger of having lead in your drinking water.

The Dangers of Lead

So what are the dangers of lead?

First and foremost there are no unique symptoms of lead poisoning, and it's often mistaken for other ailments. So even if you have lead poisoning, you may not know it. Some common symptoms of lead poisoning are:

Fatigue, lethargy, or sometimes hyperactivity Headaches
Weight loss Insomnia
Constipation Bluish line along the gums (Burton's line). This is less common in children.
Irritability Metallic taste in your mouth
Nausea, abdominal pain Poor appetite
Reduced cognitive abilities Reproductive problems

Children are especially susceptible to high levels of lead, which can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells, and kidneys.  Exposure to low levels of lead can cause lower IQ, hearing impairment, reduced attention span and poor performance in the classroom.

High lead levels in adults have also been linked to high blood pressure.

Pregnant women and their fetuses are especially vulnerable to lead exposure, which can significantly harm the fetus, cause low birth weight and slow down a baby's normal mental and physical development.

Making the possibility of lead poisoning even worse are the studies showing that fluoridated water supplies can increase children's absorption of lead, and, when lead is introduced into your body in sufficient quantities, it displaces zinc, which can disrupt normal brain cell growth.

So avoiding all lead is important for adults, but is absolutely vital for children (especially children under the age of six who are rapidly developing), and pregnant and nursing mothers. Lead can also be found in older paints, and is of particular concern when it comes to painted children's toys manufactured in other countries where using lead paint is still legal.

Lead is also still allowed everywhere in the manufacturing of soft plastics, to improve malleability. This is also of concern for children, who often play with soft plastic toys and frequently put these toys into their mouths!

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Lead Poisoning

Clearly, protecting yourself and your family from lead poisoning is a primary health concern. Keeping painted  and plastic toys out of your children's hands and mouth is one big step in the right direction.

But a much better way to control your exposure to lead is to filter the water coming into your house with an NSA certified filter that guarantees to remove 100 percent of all heavy metals.

These filters also provide an added bonus of also filtering out dangerous byproducts from chlorination, as well as bacteria and cysts that are naturally present in well water and can survive urban water treatment facilities.

NSA certified filters also remove most of the fluoride, and all of the herbicides, pesticides and drug residue that are now commonly found in both well water supplies and in urban treated water.

Your Best Water Filtration Options

A whole house water filter will do the best job of removing the harsh chlorine byproducts from your whole house, which are a danger not only in your drinking water, but also in your shower, toilet and appliances.

A whole house filter will also remove 100 percent of lead that arrives at your doorstep, but it does not address the lead that leaches into the water from the pipes at your doorstep and inside your house.

Your best option for the cleanest shower water is to use a point of use water filtration system, and insist on one that's NSA certified to remove 100 percent of all heavy metals and chlorine byproducts. I offer for sale what I consider to be one of the best products on the market in this category.

The best option for your home's drinking water is to filter at the point of use with an NSA certified water filter. This addresses all of the chemicals found in well water or an urban water supply, along with the lead that leaches into the water from your home's plumbing.

To have the best possible protection from chemicals and metals in your entire home, you want to consider both a whole house filter and a point of use filter on your tap.

This covers all the bases for protecting all your appliances from harsh chlorine and chlorine byproducts, protecting your lungs from airborne water contaminants that come from the shower or toilet, and protecting your tap water from all contaminants that both arrive at your house and are added by your own plumbing.

To be fair, adding both of these filters may be cost prohibitive for some families. In that case, you really want to think about protecting yourself when in the shower, since a seven-minute hot shower will expose your body (through your lungs and skin absorption) to more toxins than drinking a gallon of unfiltered tap water.

But since exposure to lead in any quantity is a guaranteed health risk, I definitely recommend that everyone strongly consider a point of use NSA filter for their tap water.

Final Thoughts about Your Home's Water Supply

You're not going to replace all the pipes in your house, this just isn't realistic. But these pipes are the source of dangerous contaminants coming into your home, and you simply cannot afford to expose yourself and your family to the heavy metal health threats posed by lead, or to the threats posed by all the chemicals found in both well water and in urban water supplies.

Folks, this is one of the easiest health issues to address. There's only one pipe coming into your house, and only one pipe running into your tap water and into your shower.

If you address the source of contamination at the point of use, you cover yourself and your family against untold toxins coming into your house through your shower or tap water. In fact, the danger lurking in the water coming into your house is most likely greater than anyone realizes. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. recently told ABC News that there are more than 140 chemicals in U.S. drinking water supplies that are not regulated by the EPA!

Another great way to put your new filtered water to use is to drink it exclusively instead of soda (including regular soda and diet soda), which is now America's number one source of calories and is doing more to ruin the public health than any other substance.

In fact, the number one recommendation I can make right now for your better health is to replace soda with plain pure clean water. Making this one change in your life is one of the most effective ways to quickly improve your health.

+ Sources and References