January 31, 2016

Reducing the risk of lead poisoning from drinking water

According to water quality experts, there are several steps consumers can take to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water. These actions are particularly important for pregnant women, formula-fed infants and children under the age of 6.

Use only cold water for cooking and drinking. Water from the hot water tap can dissolve lead more easily than cold water. Boiling water can concentrate lead. Consider purchasing bottled water from a known lead-free source for drinking and cooking.

Avoid drinking or cooking with water that has been sitting in pipes overnight. Some experts caution to never run a faucet at full speed to avoid flaking off lead. One recommends drawing a large jug of water at night before bed to use for drinking and cooking in the morning.

Inspect your faucet aerator. The aerator on the end of your faucet is a screen that can catch debris, including particles of lead. It is recommended to periodically remove the aerator and rinse out any debris.

To check if your home has lead pipes, locate the pipe that leads into your home and connects to the water meter, often coming up through the basement floor. Use a flathead screwdriver to scratch the pipe and remove any accumulated dirt or deposits. If the pipe is shiny metal under the scratched area, it is lead. If it is copper-colored, it is copper. And if it remains dull, it is galvanized steel. Also, a magnet will stick to steel, but it will not stick to lead.

Madison Water Utility

To check if your home has lead pipes, locate the pipe that leads into your home and connects to the water meter, often coming up through the basement floor. Use a flathead screwdriver to scratch the pipe and remove any accumulated dirt or deposits. If the pipe is shiny metal under the scratched area, it is lead. If it is copper-colored, it is copper. And if it remains dull, it is galvanized steel. Also, a magnet will stick to steel, but it will not stick to lead.

Test your tap water for lead. The homes at highest risk of lead in the water are those built before 1950, but even newer homes may have lead service lines or indoor plumbing components made of lead. The state Department of Natural Resources maintains a list of laboratories, some of which do lead testing.

Purchase a home filtration system. Home drinking water filtration systems or water filtering pitchers can reduce or eliminate lead. Be sure to look for products certified by NSF/ANSI under Standard 53 for removal of lead. Recommended filters can be found on the Milwaukee Water Works website.

Consider having children under age 6 and pregnant women tested for lead in their blood. There is no safe level of lead. Most lead-poisoned people do not look or act sick. The Milwaukee Health Department recommends testing vulnerable children at age 12 months, 18 months and 24 months, however, recent research based in Flint suggests infants on formula also should be tested.

Additional information about reducing lead exposure in drinking water is available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the city of Milwaukee.

— Dee J. Hall