8 things you can do to protect yourself against lead poisoning from water
Ohio has the second highest number of lead pipes in the nation, and cities are struggling to manage projects that can cost from $1,200 to $12,000 per home.
Why care? Lead can cause many health problems, especially in infants and young children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Drinking water can make up 20% or more of a person’s total lead exposure. Infants who primarily consume mixed formulas can get 40% to 60% of their lead exposure from drinking water.” according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
In children, lead poisoning can lead to brain damage, stunted growth, learning disabilities and hearing and speech problems, according to the CDC. In adults, it can cause cardiovascular effects, including increased blood pressure and decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems in both men and women.
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Here are some tips to protect your household:
1. Run the water at your faucet for at least 30 seconds.
- 1 1. Run the water at your faucet for at least 30 seconds.
- 2 2. Check the map. See if there is a public lead service line running to your home.
- 3 3. Check if there is a lead water pipe in your house. (You’ll need a penny and a magnet.)
- 4 4. If you have lead pipes and are concerned about exposure, you can pay to have your water tested.
- 5 5. Consider buying a water filtration system or filter pitcher for your home.
- 6 6. Keep an eye on the construction.
- 7 7. Clean your faucet screen at home.
- 8 8. Use cold water for cooking and drinking
When water is in household pipes or plumbing lines for long periods of time, such as at night or during work and school hours, lead can leach into the water. Lead can get into your water if you have water pipes, plumbing, or plumbing fixtures that contain lead.
Flush the faucet for at least 30 seconds if the faucet has not been running for several hours, such as overnight, whether or not you have a lead service line between the mains and your home. This is because many homes also have copper pipes with lead solder behind the walls in the bathrooms and kitchens, so the problem goes well beyond what kind of pipes are in the ground,” said Laura Young Mohr, a spokeswoman for Columbus Public Utilities.
Others say to run water for longer, such as one to two minutes, according to Penn State Extension. It is necessary if the water has been standing still for an hour or more.
If you’re concerned about wasting water, you can flush the plumbing once in the morning and then store bottled water for later use.
2. Check the map. See if there is a public lead service line running to your home.
Homes built before the mid-1950s may still have a lead service line. Homes built before 1989 may have copper pipes with lead soldering. Plumbing fixtures made before 2014 can contain up to 8% lead, according to the Columbus Department of Public Utilities.
Columbus: Check your service lines
cleveland:Check your service line
Cincinnati:Check your service line
If your water comes from a smaller water system, you can visit the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency website, which has maps for every public water system on file. The agency is in the process of obtaining more detailed and accurate data from water systems.
3. Check if there is a lead water pipe in your house. (You’ll need a penny and a magnet.)
Check the service line that enters your home. You can often find these in the basement. You want to find an area on the pipe where it comes and the intake valve. If the pipe is covered or wrapped, expose a small piece of metal. Scratch the surface of the pipe first. You can use a flat head screwdriver or other tool for this. If the tube color turns shiny and silver, the service line is lead.
You can also check this by sticking a magnet on the tube. A magnet does not stick to lead or copper pipes, but it does to galvanized steel.
If you tap a lead pipe with a penny, it produces a dull sound. Copper and galvanized steel pipes produce a metallic ringing sound. There is step-by-step guide available for download on the city of Columbus website.
If you don’t have access to the pipe that leads to your home plumbing, there are other options. Request a copy of the building permit for your home to learn the builder’s name. Contractors often have an overview of the sanitary materials used. Columbus residents can call 614-645-7314 for more information.
4. If you have lead pipes and are concerned about exposure, you can pay to have your water tested.
It is impossible to see, taste or smell lead dissolved in drinking water. Testing is the only way to determine if there are harmful levels of lead. Test costs often range between $20 and $100, according to EPA.
If you choose to hire a lab to test your water, make sure they are certified. Ohio EPA certifies laboratories, which ensures that the laboratories can “perform accurate tests using specific methods approved by US EPA”, according to the website.
5. Consider buying a water filtration system or filter pitcher for your home.
Research which filters are certified by NSF International to remove lead.
“If the utility company can’t tell you, all you can honestly do is filter your water with an NSF internationally certified lead removal filter,” he said. Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “You can flush your water for a few minutes before using it, which can reduce lead levels. But you have to push it long enough to get all the way through the width of the service line in your own home to empty that service. And even then it’s not foolproof. A filter is probably a better option.”
Make sure your filter is installed correctly and that it is replaced as directed. An expired cartridge will not be as effective at removing lead, according to EPA.
Other possible water contaminants include PFAS chemicals, or “forever chemicals,” known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, which are man-made and don’t break down as the name implies. They are designed for use in household items, including non-stick cookware. Consider a reverse osmosis system installed under your sink.
6. Keep an eye on the construction.
If there is construction work that could disrupt your lead service line, that means even more lead can come out of the line during the work, according to EPA.
7. Clean your faucet screen at home.
Your faucet has a strainer, also known as an aerator, that can trap sediment, dirt, and lead particles. If lead particles get trapped in the aerator, lead can get into your water, according to EPA.
8. Use cold water for cooking and drinking
Boiling does not remove lead from your water. Water that comes out of the tap warm or hot may contain even more lead. Always use cold water for cooking and drinking. When it comes to showering and bathing, experts say you should be fine. “Even if the water contains lead above the action level of EPA, human skin does not absorb lead in water,” according to EPA. But your first source of information about your drinking water should always be your water system’ EPA Consumer Confidence Report.
If you have more questions, you can reach the Water Quality Assurance Lab of Columbus at 614-645-7691. Columbus’ Healthy Homes Program, which works to prevent lead poisoning in children, can be reached at 614-724-6000.