June 2021

· 6 min read

Water Well-Being: How to Discover If Lead Is in Your Drinking Water

Is lead lurking in your drinking water? Check out six DIY clues for making your own discovery, plus tips about what you can do to make your water safe.
Smiling Little girls drinking pure mineral water - Water Well-being: Tips to Discover Lead in Your Drinking Water | NSF International

Working in a career dedicated to helping people lead safer, healthier lives — and manning a consumer hotline — it’s not surprising that my friends and family often turn to me when they’ve got questions about germy things that are stressing them out. One ominous problem, lead lurking in their pipes and threatening their drinking water, tops their list of enquiries.

That’s not shocking since efforts are underway in major cities around the world to remove lead pipes. That’s because your exposure to lead in water can be traced to pipes known as service lines that connect homes to city water suppliers. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that lead in your water is unsafe at any level. The World Health Organization also is dedicated to delivering safe drinking water to people in homes across the globe.

There certainly is cause for concern. Young children, infants and unborn babies are particularly vulnerable to lead because lower exposure levels have a more significant impact than they do on adults. Lead can permanently damage the developing brains of children and result in slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. In adults, lead exposure can cause increased blood pressure and hypertension along with decreased kidney function and reproductive problems. Not only can lead be in drinking water, but it can also be in lead paint in older homes and in soils around those homes.

So how do you know if you’ve got lead in your water? I turned to Rick Andrew, NSF’s resident water treatment expert, who offered six DIY clues for making your own discovery and what you can do to make your water safe:

  1. 1

    This Old House

    Older homes, especially those built before 1986, are most likely to have lead pipes, faucets and fixtures. Lead can enter the drinking water through the corrosion of these plumbing materials.

  2. 2

    On the Town

    The lead pipes snaking through communities of every size have made headlines lately and many infrastructure projects are underway to replace them.

  3. 3

    Inside Matters

    Many older multifamily buildings and houses have plumbing that contains lead. Faucets and fixtures may contain lead, as well as galvanized pipes where lead particles can attach to the surface and enter your drinking water.

  4. 4

    Do Your Homework

    Find out from your water supplier what is in your water. In some areas there are water quality reports available. In the US and some provinces in Canada you may receive a consumer confidence report (CCR), also known as an annual drinking water quality report, from your water supplier.

  5. 5

    Testing. Testing.

    Have your water tested for lead. Since you cannot taste or smell lead, this is the surest way to tell if there are harmful quantities of lead in your drinking water.

  6. 6

    Use a Water Filter

    If you use a filter, make sure it’s certified to remove lead. Remember that boiling your water does not remove lead from drinking water. The amount of lead stays the same; it’s the amount of water that deceases due to evaporation.

“The positive news is that a lot of communities and now governments across the world are working to replace service lines that are causing these lead exposure issues,“ says Rick. “And, as a consumer, you can have your water tested and take steps to correct the problem.”

Do you have questions about lead and your water? Contact me at info@nsf.org or call me at +1 800 673 8010.

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Sources:

www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-sources-lead#water

www.ofmpub.epa.gov/apex/safewater/f?p=136:102